Is there any option, but to change?

During the merger of US Airways and American Airlines it was reported that several US Airway pilots didn’t allow American pilots to ride in jump seats. These actions should not have surprised anyone. Drastic changes such as mergers often bring out the very worst in genuinely good people.

Change is not for the squeamish nor the faint-hearted. Change goes to the very core of personal identity. It is about disrupting the status-quo and unsettling that which has become the new norm. It is about making different that which has been common and creating a new, undefined future. Most importantly, while change is often about systems and structures, in the end, it is ultimately about people and and their reactions to the changes. As such, one should not have been surprised by what the US Airways’ pilots did.

As the old idiom goes, “change would be easy, if not for the people.”

At the core of any change process is its impact on people’s lives. Whether it is a change to a new accounting system, or a complete restructuring of an organization’s operational divisions, success or failure is dependent on one key element – people. It is thus not surprising that over 70% of all major change efforts fail. Change is tough and not for the squeamish. That is why it is essential for leaders and managers to help those they work with understand not only the reason for the change – but perhaps most importantly, the critical reasons why there is no option but to change.

John Kotter, one of the foremost experts on change teaches, “Urgency is not an issue for people who have been asked all their lives to merely maintain the current system”.

At the core of successful change is the critical work that needs to be done to help people, who have been trained and rewarded throughout their lives to keep the status quo, to now become change agents. This is not an easy task. From our earliest school days, we learned to conform, fit in the box, and maintain the status quo. Students and employees who ask “why” too often, or challenge the norm, are rarely rewarded for their efforts. These are the same people, who we then expect to change from the status quo because we said so.

In order to help overcome a lifetime of training and modify behaviors is incumbent upon leaders to create a true sense of urgency – one that can break down the very walls their systems created. Whereas ineffective leaders utter pithy statements about the need for change, effective leaders recognize this critical dynamic and articulate, and in very real and honest terms help their people understand that there is no option but to change. Only then will people throughout the organization do what is necessary to help the change be successful.

Just saying “we are changing” or “changes are coming” is not a message of urgency. All these messages do is create anxiety and resistance, not urgency. Just saying this is the new structure or system not does ensure buy-in. Creating a very real sense of urgency, is the fundamental key to successful change.

Change is the new norm, but without understanding and embracing the harsh realities of the reason why the changes are necessary, most people will both consciously and unconsciously resist these efforts.

What are you doing to help your colleagues understand the reasons for the changes you are proposing? Only then will they become part of your coalition of the willing rather than one of the legions of resisters.


Lou is the CEO of Dynamic Change Solutions, and a certified practitioner of the Change Style Indicator ® which can help create a collaborative culture in your organization. For a free 30 minute consultation on preparing your team for change, please email me or to learn more about our company, please visit Dynamic Change Solutions.

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