The Seven Myths of Managing Change

We've all heard the dreaded statistic by now – most change researchers conclude that 75% of all change efforts fail. I'm sure you've been a part of a painful change effort in your own careers; a new system that is supposed to make things easier that only ends up confusing people and slowing down work, a merger where half your team quits due to new workload or negative culture, a new vision or mission initiative that turns out to be all talk and no application. You get my point. We've all been frustrated by poor communication or follow-through during shaky change efforts. I am someone that has personally struggled with the concept of change in my life and career, so I decided to get a master's degree in this field of study so that I could better know how to be a part of the solution instead of being constantly frustrated by the process. 

I have heard so much misinformation and assumptions about how to successfully orchestrate change, so I decided to compile my list of myths surrounding change management. For a complete formula about how to communicate during change check out this article. 

Myth 1: It doesn't matter what leaders do, people will always be resistant and fearful of change. 

If people are resistant and fearful of the change, then they don't believe in the change being made. This could mean that the change leader has not been able to credibly show them why the new way of doing things is better than what they are currently doing. Once people fully understand and buy into the why behind the change, most will see how this is for their best interest, even if they take time to grieve the change, they will still be on board.

Lewin's Change Management Model states the most important step in initiating change is communicating the why and building buy-in. It's only when this is not done effectively that you run into major resistance. "To prepare the organization successfully, you need to start at its core – you need to challenge the beliefs, values, attitudes, and behaviors that currently define it. Using the analogy of a building, you must examine and be prepared to change the existing foundations as they might not support add-on storeys. Unless this is done, the whole building may risk collapse."

Myth 2: Everyone perceives change the same way and needs similar communication.  

Change leaders must tailor messages to fit each audience. It's a human tendency to communicate using the language that we ourselves most want to hear. By changing our own communication style to match the needs and wants of others, employees will become much more receptive to changes because they have the information they are seeking. Check out my article about the 4 different ways that people experience change. 

Myth 3: You only need to announce the change to everyone once.

A general rule of thumb is that a change message should be stated no less than 7 times (preferably using multiple channels). If people aren't rolling their eyes and poking fun at a leader for repeating themselves, then you haven't stated your message often enough. One study by Harvard Business Review concluded, ""Managers who were deliberately redundant moved their projects forward faster and more smoothly." Now, don't take this as permission to copy and paste the same message seven different times. The real power of repeating a message requires a bit more intentionality and finesse. You'll need to find multiple creative and effective ways to get the same idea across to your team while learning to say it in new ways. 

Myth 4: Communicating the changes via email is good enough. 

A multiple channel approach is a must when rolling out a significant change. Picking two or three channels/methods is a necessity in making sure everyone is aware and on-board. In this age of information overload, it's easy to completely miss important announcements. Change leaders need to work around this by choosing multiple communication methods. Create a video highlight to send to everyone, hold a face-to-face meeting, get creative and post announcements on staff bulletin boards or break rooms. Think of yourself in your employees shoes, if you're drowning in emails they probably are too so get creative and diversify your channels.  

Myth 5: Staff aren't positive enough about the change and are holding us back.

Don't mistake grief as the same thing as resistance. Some may need time to grieve the change as research has shown that someone going through significant change will most likely go through the same stages as someone in grief. Allowing employees time to process and acknowledging what they are losing during the change will facilitate trust and understanding, but don't assume if they are grieving that they aren't on board. If they've bought into the why of the change, they may still grieve their lost but they will move forward with you knowing it is ultimately for the best. Rushing people to be excited/positive and thinking this will help you is a recipe for employee backlash. As long as they are compliant and contributing to forward progress, know they are on board and let the excitement come once they are ready.

Myth 6: You can never over communicate.  

I hate to say it, but, yes, you can over communicate. When leaders over communicate a poor or confusing vision employees can feel frustrated and even patronized. If your frequent messages are conflicting or unorganized, people will immediately lose steam for the change. Over communicating a disorganized message or one with a weak vision will make any of your action-oriented employees totally zone out – and leaders need to lean on these individuals to help champion change initiatives. All talk and no action is a quick way to failure. 

Myth 7: A job well done is praise enough. 

When your team has struggled and worked hard to support your change initiative and you're finally successful – it is NOT okay to simply move onto the next change without acknowledging and celebrating. Personal satisfaction in a job well-done only goes so far and employees will quickly get burnt out if this is the only validation they receive. Find ways to celebrate accomplishments and milestones along the way as well as a huge acknowledgement when a change is completed and successful. For employees to maintain buy-in and energy they need to know that their individual contribution is noticed, appreciated, and ultimately that it makes a difference. A Harvard Business Review 10-year study of more than 200,000 employees stated that "79% of employees who quit their jobs cite a lack of appreciation as a key reason." Your praise needs to authentic, specific, and intentional or it won't land well. Check out this article of what not to do when you're motivating your team.

I've personally heard each one of these myths about change, and most of them I've experienced multiple times. Change leaders must take a look at their methods used and address the misinformation out there to be successful.

About the Author

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Jessica Beans is a researcher and facilitator specializing in group dynamics, leadership, and change management. She holds an undergraduate degree in public relations and graphic design and a masters degree in organizational leadership with an emphasis in change management and strategic innovation.

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