Change is not a one-man show, rather it can only be created when executives and their teams work together. Prof. Dr. Heidi Möller, Department of Psychology at the University of Kassel. In the interview, she explains why resistance is a positive thing.
What is the greatest challenge for companies wanting to initiate sustainable change processes in terms of real transformation?
The hardest thing to do is to change people. You can change structures day in and day out, but people are much slower, and it takes a great amount of effort to get them involved in the change process. All too often, this is one aspect that is disregarded, which is why up to 70 percent of all change projects fail.
What do I as a top manager need to do to be among the 30 percent who experience success?
First, you must realize that the era of “heroic” management is over. You will not achieve change as a one-man show, but only in conjunction with middle management and your employees. As a top manager, you have to communicate a lot, also across departments. Your task is to establish a consensus from the top to the bottom of the organization that the change makes sense.
You must succeed in creating an understanding for the changes. That requires taking a balanced approach. Neither you nor your employees know exactly where the journey is going. There is a great deal of uncertainty in the process of change. It calls for an overall high level of stress tolerance from your executives at all levels and employees.
Above all, I must have a keen sense of awareness as acompany manager.
Yes, especially with respect to the level of stability and change. You must drive change, while ensuring that your system is not overwhelmed. It is important to create room for dialog, in which your team can openly express its fears and worries. These should not simply be pushed away; they must be identified. Because not all employees are immediately open for changes. Some say “Great, something new” and are quick to jump onboard, while others shy away from change like a cat from water.
Ultimately, everyone should be onboard. Because if your team does not get involved or even blocks your efforts, you are completely powerless as a leader.
Threatening with a whip is just as counter-productive. But which skills or competencies do executives need for this process?
First of all, it is all about a very fundamental attitude. Be aware: Change cannot occur without resistance. This is normal. If no one rebels in an organization, that should be considered a cause for concern. Resistance is welcome, because it is a sign that people are seriously dealing with change: with their previous beliefs and what is new to them. Resistance is a reflection of concerns, worries and fears. In order to prevent blockades, this is something top management must understand and pay attention to. Managers should always flow with resistance and not fight against it. Otherwise, sides may clash, which is a road to no-where.
Another important aspect: patience. When initiating major change processes, many things have to be unlearned. It is not only about learning new things, but also about saying goodbye to old ways of thinking. This is always time consuming.
It must be nearly impossible to get all employees involved in the change process, right?
It is important to get the critical mass onboard. Even if only 30 percent are willing to participate, that is good. But it should not be any less than that. As in a snow-ball system, the rest of the workforce will gradually be convinced.
What role do external consultants play in transformation processes?
Especially when it comes to major change processes, external support is of fundamental importance. Even simply having a partner to reflect your own behavior back to you. As a leader, I need someone to show me my blind spots. Someone who acts as a sparring partner and offers a sounding board, without any need to gain something or with no ulterior motives. This type of differentiated and constructive feedback helps immensely.