Don't underestimate the power of fear of project change

Why the PMO and Project team must not underestimate the fear of change!

For those of us who work in the project world, it is fair to say it is because we embrace, no we love change.  Nothing gets us motivated more than the opportunity, the challenge of taking an idea and turning it into a project so as to implement something of benefit.

However, it is a sad truth that many people do not like change.  Some even go as far to hate change.  So it is fair to say that change can cause very strong emotions.

This presents a problem…..

On one side you have the project team, full of enthusiasm doing all they can to deliver change.  However, the people who will receive the change do not want the change and will do all they can to resist the change

Even worse, in many cases the people resisting the change are the ones with the expert knowledge needed in order to shape and design what is needed.

The battle lines are drawn and the standoff has begun………”fear of change” is winning!

What is “fear of change”?

Very simply it is a persons concern that what ever is changing will have a negative impact on them in some way.  This is only natural.  As human beings we assess every situation if it is a threat or not so that we can react in a way to protect ourselves.  Classic “fight or flight” as covered so well in the book the Chimp Paradox.

Reasons people “fear change”

There are a number of reasons why people fear change.  Rosabeth Moss Kanter put together a very good list in her article, “Ten Reasons People Resist Change“.

  • Loss of control
  • Excess uncertaintty
  • Surprise, surprise (decisions announced last minute)
  • Everything is different (i.e. too much has changed at once)
  • Loss of face (those who implemented previous change that perhaps didn’t work)
  • Concerns on competence (do I have the skills required)
  • More work
  • Ripple effect (impact to other areas outside immediate change)
  • Past resentments (people remember previous “bad” change experiences)
  • Sometimes threat is real (change is not good for individual i.e. job loss)

What action can you take?

The most important action is to recognise that the “fear of change” is real, that it is important, that it matters.  While something may not appear significant to senior management who make decisions or the project team executing the change, to the recipient it can feel like a real big deal!

Therefore, being mindful of this will hopeful ensure that decisions are fully considered and actions put in place to best manage the communication and implementation of the change.

Many project teams while executing change, spend a lot of time creating plans, defining requirements, building solutions, testing and then implementing.  What they are not good at is the true change management of communicating with the impacted areas, ensuring the reason for change is understood, training and the appropriate after care.

People are more understanding when they are made aware of change, feel that they are able to provide input, understand the reason for the change and the required / anticipated outcome.  In many cases the change will benefit the recipient.

Therefore, it is essential that you do not over-look or only play “lip service” to the change management on the ground.  Make sure your plans have the appropriate activities and that you engage early.  While there may be cases which will impact the end user in what may be seen as negatively i.e. automation leading to job reduction.  While this is a shock and major change, most people would rather understand and be able to plan as opposed to it being announced to them at the end (the “Surprise, surprise factor).

Summary

The “fear of change” is real and can seriously impact the implementation of a change project.  Recognising this is the most important response so that you can implement the required change management to address concerns and support the end users.