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Akhilesh Gulati

Quality Insider

Embrace Change

Resistance is futile

Published: Monday, June 30, 2014 - 10:51

By electing President Obama in 2008, the people of the United States opted for change. In the May 2014 elections in India, the people of India opted for change by nominating N. Modi for Prime Minister after a long run by the Congress Party. The recent surges in polls and a realignment of leadership throughout the world are a clear indicator that people are not only wanting “change”, they are aggressively embracing change. Change is, however, being resisted by those who perceive change as a threat to their power position, be that as a leader, a manager, or as a skilled person.

As a practitioner of process excellence, using lean, Six Sigma, Theory of Constraints, TRIZ or any combination of a number of methodologies, one of the biggest challenges cited in implementing change is overcoming resistance to it.

As noted above, people seek outside change often, but they don't like being personally changed or having change imposed upon them.

Peter Drucker said it more eloquently, “People are not stressed because there’s too much change in organizations, but because of the way change is made.”

After all, we make changes in our personal lives all of the time, whether it is buying a new car, a new smart phone, or changing our social status via marriage or divorce. These changes are of of our own volition, but imposed changes, especially organizational changes, are a far different matter.

How an individual views change may be a matter of personal perspective. Some see change as exciting or as an opportunity; others are afraid of it. When people perceive change as a threat, they behave in a defensive way and resist the change. By maintaining the status quo though, we close off our ability to see alternatives and potential benefits that other opportunities may hold for us.

This may be easier said than done, but when we are implementing an organizational change, we need to help people understand why they feel threatened and help them consider alternatives in answer to their fears and concerns.  One successful way we have found to make sustained change happen is to use a tool that most change agents (e.g., lean practitioners, Six Sigma black belts, quality professionals, etc.) are familiar with: the gap analysis. Conducting a gap analysis of leadership styles across different management levels allows us to create a perception map of how employees and management feel about the amount of effort expended for various leadership roles and responsibilities, as well as behaviors and activities. It helps in understanding that, at its core, resistance to change is caused by the “not-invented-here” syndrome; "it wasn't my idea so it must not be good."

To overcome this feeling and establish a foundation for making change happen, bring together a cross-functional team of senior managers and personnel to conduct an “as-is” analysis. This process starts a conversation, ensures representation at all levels of management, and uncovers specific activities that are key to motivating change so as to improve performance. This analysis helps create a common understanding of where the leadership stands and what is causing resistance. Examples of activites that hinder change may include:
• Lack of empowerment of front line or production floor managers
• Requiring frequent progress reports on initiatives
• Quelling self-initiated solutions (risk averseness)
• Too much focus on day-to-day activities by senior management (micromanagement)
• Rewarding non-risk takers and fire-fighters
• Unfair allocation of responsibility and accountability
• Playing people against each other

Figure 1 shows an example of a perception map that has proven useful.


Figure 1: Perception map of types of activities versus level of perceived effort to either eliminate or promote.


Once the “as-is” environment is defined, it can be used to create a “to-be” scenario that identifies attributes and activities that can have a positive impact and need to be developed or improved, and those that have a negative impact that need reduced attention or elimination. A four-quadrant chart provides an effective visual to ensure that the message is understood clearly.

Figure 2


To facilitate success, leaders need to be actively engaged in defining the changes that need to take place to enable their businesses and staff to thrive.

While any change initiative faces skepticism, it can be overcome by:
• First, analyze the “as-is” state, and through that discovery process, get acknowledgement about the need for change.
• Then, define the “to-be” behaviors needed to achieve improved performance.
• Finally, execute and sustain the change by encouraging engagement, offering explanations, and establishing expectations.

For an organization to embrace change it needs its senior management to be engaged and actively spearheading the change initiative; we have heard this over and over. They need to be involved in all phases of the initiative to send a clear message to all about the importance of the change; so that maybe, this time, it won't appear to be the next flavor of the month.

Active participation with employees not only sends a strong signal but also allows leadership to gain insight into their own actions. Everyone begins to understand the reasons why things are done a certain way and the associated barriers. They get to challenge sacred cows which, in fact, may no longer have a purpose. But mainly, each participating employee gets to have his or her voice heard. These interactions provide clarity as the organization moves from the “as-is” to the “to-be” stage. Ongoing communication keeps everyone honest and motivated. It fosters trust, promotes flexibility, provides incentive to move beyond turf issues and the not-invented-here syndrome, seeks innovative ideas, and adopts best practices, thus providing a rich culture for embracing change.


About The Author

Akhilesh Gulati’s picture

Akhilesh Gulati

Akhilesh Gulati has 25 years of experience in operational excellence, process redesign, lean, Six Sigma, strategic planning, and TRIZ (structured innovation) training and consulting in a variety of industries. Gulati is the principal consultant at PIVOT Management Consultants and CEO of the analytics firm Pivot Adapt Inc. in Southern California. He holds a master’s degree from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, an MBA from UCLA, and is a Six Sigma Master Black Belt and a Balanced Scorecard Professional.