Change management is an indispensable part of the IT projects of today. Countless references to standard approaches, methods, and theories can be found in the economic and scientific environment. However, in specific project situations, these often fail to help – or only do so insufficiently. So, what can be done if the “classic” change management methods fail to lead to the desired goal? At PIKON, we think outside of the box and use methods from the world of systemic consulting to find out what is really necessary. And sometimes, it’s just a change of perspective.
Join me on a short journey of experience, get to know new perspectives in change management from a child’s perspective, and, with the help of five simple steps, find out how saying goodbye can sometimes bring about miracles.
Resistance in change management
Hi, I’m Linda. I work as a change manager in IT projects, and this is my story: I have a problem with change. I hate it. As a child, I cried for two whole weeks when we got a new sofa. I didn’t want to ride in our new car either. My parents had to drag me to the car by my hands and feet. And nobody was allowed to make any changes to my room.
I have often heard these and other stories told about me – and many times over. And I also like to tell them. They are funny and offer a poignant explanation of why I find it hard to accept change. And changes happen all the time – especially in the context of work.
In change management, dealing with resistance to change is one of the classic tasks. This is something that Kurt Lewin discussed in his famous model dating from 1947. He describes the process of change in three phases: Unfreeze – change – refreeze. In the first phase, “unfreeze”, he focuses on the initial motivation for change. This can be achieved by convincing the affected persons that the prevailing state is undesirable. This means that cases of resistance that arise should be counteracted by explaining the reasons for the change in detail and making those affected understand the new state as being necessary and therefore especially appealing.
My impression as an affected person: I’m not really convinced. Despite my parents repeatedly telling me that the new car was really necessary and that it was also much more comfortable, I still found the old car better. It was what I was used to, I associated a lot of enjoyable experiences with it, and even worse, the new car smelt strange. What my parents didn’t know: I simply found it hard to say goodbye to the old car – it didn’t matter how great the new car was.
Looking back instead of moving ahead
This situation makes it clear that in this case, the heart of the “problem” isn’t an unwillingness to accept change. I don’t reject new things on principle. In many situations, I am happy about new things and changes, and often actively bring them about. What I find difficult is letting go of the old.
And as a change manager in IT, I experience similar situations. Despite considerable efforts by managers, even beneficial changes that have a very good reason and merit care are met with a sense of skepticism. A not insignificant part of the employees shows no or only half-hearted motivation. This gives us reason to take a closer look: Maybe it isn’t about the innovation itself, i.e. the new SAP system, with its great new features and the time this new digitalized approach will save the employees. It might be more about saying goodbye to what people are familiar with. It’s the unwillingness to leave behind a work routine that has been built up over several years – and which is associated with many fond memories.
To move on is to let go
So what can be done? The solution is to let go of the past. And to do so consciously.
Until now, consciously saying farewell to the old has rarely been integrated into the standard change management methods. The process of saying farewell is subconsciously taken as given, and is not explicitly addressed or steered. Conscious farewells are characterized by one thing above all else: Rituals. As our society has evolved, it has acquired a wide variety of farewell rituals: School-leaving parties, stag parties, new year’s parties, and funerals.
Rituals are so helpful, especially in farewell processes, as they provide a sense of security, structure, and control. In crises in particular, when people often feel insecure and powerless, this orientation offers a huge sense of relief. Rituals also offer something “tangible” for things that are often difficult to grasp. They get people out of their own heads and into doing something.
Change can also be considered to be a minor crisis that causes uncertainty among many employees. Rituals can help to create a conscious transition from the old to the new. They offer those affected an added sense of security and the ability to take action and thereby face the change more openly.
Five steps to break down resistance with Change Management
What might a conscious, parting farewell look like in change management? The following five steps offer an initial orientation for taking action with the example of an SAP changeover in which resistance presents a particular challenge despite a comprehensive communication strategy.
Step 1: Raise awareness
Make yourself aware of the farewell situation and create a sense of awareness among those affected. Avoid substantiating the attractiveness of the new system by depicting the previous system and current processes in expressly negative terms. Instead, try to see the value of the old by looking at it with a sense of nostalgia (for example: “Wow, you created this Excel document yourself? It looks really complicated! How does it work?”).
Step 2: Appreciate
Appreciation is a core element in the process of saying farewell. Resistance arises when those affected don’t feel sufficiently listened to or appreciated. Convey a sense of appreciation for what those affected have achieved so far and their daily work. You can do this during daily interactions and in a structured way at a workshop or meeting. For example, invite people on a journey back in time in which they can look back on the old days; the motto: “do you remember?”.
Step 3: Differentiate
Empower those affected to differentiate what they are actually saying goodbye to, and what they want to and can preserve. For those affected, what exactly is the problem with the replacement of an old process or procedure is frequently unclear. Ask detailed questions and develop strategies together at one-on-one meetings or at workshops concerning how to continue to preserve the important elements. For example: With the elimination of paperwork, people feel that they miss what were quieter periods during their daily routine. How can quieter periods such as these also be put into a digital daily routine? What kind of work might employees be allowed to take more time on? What can the time which is gained be used for instead?
Step 4: Find rituals
Find appropriate rituals which symbolically support letting go of the old. For example, host a farewell party, hold a farewell speech for the old system, shred the paper which is no longer required, or celebrate the disposal of old materials and equipment. In this context, both joint rituals in the group constellation and separate rituals carried out individually are helpful. Support those affected in finding the ritual that works for them. In particular, creative or unconventional rituals can help with looking at an emotional issue with a sense of humor and thereby make it easier to process.
Step 5: Review
Review the actual benefits of the steps that are taken. Moreover, as you move forward, continue to be aware of the influence of history, past practices, and old processes. Support those affected individually, taking account of their differing needs and the pace at which they work, and repeat individual steps if necessary.
Are you uncertain as to whether the five steps are already making a difference in your company or project, or do you need support in implementing them? Change processes are far more complex than what a mere three pages of text can explain. In addition to a conscious and appreciative farewell to resolve resistance, there are many other innovative methods of systemic consulting available. These go beyond the “classic” models of change management and hit the problems and therefore the potential at their core. Together with our systemic consultants and experts for organizational development, discover which specific core issues are present in your case. Sometimes it only takes a small change of perspective to get an entire project moving again. Try out working with us based on our free work sample and see for yourself.
In this sense: Farewell and see you soon.
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