Peter Senge quoted, “People don’t resist change. They resist being changed!”

As a consultant, don’t you think this is true? You may have faced several such scenarios in your assignments where people in the client organization try hard to resist changes for obvious reasons. Excuses doled out range from – we are doing well so why change, why now, etc.

To begin with, it is critical to understand the mind frame of those who will be a part of the change process in the client organization. Secondly, a consultant needs to display empathy to understand the factors that surround the change process. Ensuring that “affected parties” comprehend the need for change not only helps in getting them to accept change but also to support and drive it in their teams.

To help your clients manage such a change, follow the below approach in a step-by-step manner:

1. Help people overcome the resistance to change:

When change is inevitable, most organizations follow a specific pattern. The shift generally starts with changing existing activities, beliefs, behaviors and practices – replacing the old with the new. While this appears easy, managing such a transition can be a tricky affair. Expert consultants enable organizations to first acknowledge the need for change and then plan for managing the emotional needs around the impending change. Consultants must acknowledge and respect the fact that change brings chaos and confusion in minds of stakeholders, puts them under immense stress and drives defensive behavior that stems out of fear (of the unknown).

People are resistant or slow to change as they are unable to understand how their (work) environment is slated to transform – for better or worse. Does a change in the organization bring them more work or no work – this is the nagging question in the minds of people who are part of a change process. People want to know and understand the reason for change and the magnitude of change (how big or small). Making this reasoning clear and simple to understand ensures that transformation from resistance to acceptance is seamless.

2. Making sense of change:

Consultants need to understand that in tough times, emotions are more pronounced than pure logic or reasoning. It is important to build rapport and trust with each stakeholder to win their support in driving change as planned. The critical aspect here is understanding how the suggested change brings about a shift in their environment, scope of work, control and other aspects. A simulation of the changed scenario and how these processes or systems work, helps in understanding fallouts and managing failures effectively.

Selling the need for change to stakeholders with its obvious advantages in the future state and getting them to visualize the downsides of resisting change, helps in securing the buy-in for change. When stakeholders see the need for change and are able to relate to it in a positive manner, they stand to support the cause and drive change more willingly.

A consultant may use a three pronged approach in the change management process:

a. Inform and educate the stakeholders (and their influencers) along with the target groups on the changes in the systems and processes

b. Devise a strategy and an action plan on how to implement these changes

c. Enable the stakeholders and other carriers of the change to drive the planned changes

You may want to consider Prosci’s 3-phase process and the ADKAR model which describes managing change using a planned approach.

3. Pick the change agents:

To ensure change management is a smooth affair, it is highly beneficial for a consultant to identify an existing group or an employee (known as change agents) from the client organization who will own change management activities. Through detailed observations, discussions, references and analysis, consultants must pick those “influencers” and seek their agreement to assume ownership of the activities and processes involved around driving the impending change.

It is essential to identify these change agents and work at building rapport to establish trust and credibility in self and the suggested solution. These change agents provide valuable insights into critical aspects such, the positions people hold in the current business scenario and how these suggested changes bring about variations in their environment, scope of work, control and other aspects. With these inputs and developed trust, the consultant can leverage the relationship with such change agents and take their support to “sell” the intended solution to key stakeholders or decision makers.

4. Decide the timing for the change:

It is extremely vital for a consultant to perform thorough analysis of the problems at hand and consider if they can be completely resolved. Ask yourself, “when is the right time to bring about these changes?” For example, changing the marketing message in the middle of a promotion may send conflicting and confusing messages to the end customers or consumers. Moreover, it could further aggravate problems resulting in lower product sales or loss of market share.

Estimating the time it would take to effect proposed changes is another important element that you should consider as a consultant. It is often perceived that longer a change process, more likely is its collapse. This perception stems from certain beliefs that change agents may lose interest over the long run, opportune moments may close and objectives may be forgotten. However, studies show that long term change processes that are reviewed on a frequent basis are far more likely to be successful than short term changes.

These four steps are crucial in defining how the change is perceived by all affected parties. It is important for a consultant to always keep the client’s best interest in mind and recommend solutions. Ultimately, it is the client, who owns the solution and the impending change. Client decides whether to implement the solution and drive change. The success of any consulting engagement is helping the client agree to seamlessly integrate the “new” into their organization culture.

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