One of the top jobs of a leader is to guide his/her organization through change. And while change itself can kill the organization, resistance to change is guaranteed to do so! Here are seven reasons why 70% of change efforts fail and what we as leaders can do to improve the odds of success.
1. Brains resist it.
Brain plasticity and flexibility becomes more rigid by age 25, making our thoughts less flexible as we age. Once our brains are locked into a pattern of thinking about something, it can be difficult to get the brain to accept a different pattern of thinking – ie. change!
What can we do? By helping people understand this, it can sometimes make them both more aware as well as more open to change.
2. It triggers anxiety and stress.
The number one goal of most people is to avoid pain. And for many, change can trigger a lot of anxiety and stress which results in emotional pain which can lead to… change avoidance.
What can we do? Plan for the stress that change can trigger, and offer people help in learning how to manage rather than avoid the anxiety and stress. Above all, provide hope by sharing the long-term benefits of the change.
As leaders, we often act as though people have a full emotional reserve tank. In reality, the far majority of people’s tanks are nowhere near the top. Health issues, aging parents, sick children, emotional health factors, and financial stress all can play a part in draining it.
What can we do? Above all, just be aware of and sensitive to the emotional reserve levels of your team members. But we can also pace our change initiatives as well as model empathy in the midst of leading the change.
4. Confirmation bias.
When someone proposes a change that is contrary to our mental model, we are quick to find disconfirming data for why they are wrong and confirming data for why we are right.
What can we do? Be aware of your own bias and prepare that others will have their own biases as well.
5. Ignore the heart.
Most people promoting change use facts and figures to convince others. Even when people experience a medical crisis like a major cardiac event, only a small percentage actually change their behavior long term which shows just how hard change can be.
What can we do? For people to change, we need the rationale for the change to capture their heart, not just their head. Leading the change with vision is not optional – it’s essential.
6. Low credibility.
Some leaders do not monitor their credibility bank. And for people to trust us and follow us in making change, they need to believe in us.
What can we do? Assess our present credibility and further fill the bank by building relational connections, speaking truthfully, acting competently, and doing what we promise.
The truth is, many change efforts fail because of the arrogance of the leaders. They think they know more than they do and they create an eco-chamber by surrounding themselves with people who think just like them. This seldom results in good outcomes!
What can we do? Seek guidance from wise counsel and create an environment for people to speak with candor without punishment.
Jay Desko is the Executive Director of The Center and serves on the Senior Leadership Team at Calvary Church in Souderton, PA. Jay brings experience in the areas of organizational assessment, leadership coaching, decision-making, and strategic questioning. Jay’s degrees include an M.Ed. in Instructional Systems Design from Pennsylvania State University and a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and Leadership from The Union Institute.