Changing Behaviour Easier Said than Done
Getting one’s head wrapped around the idea of accepting change is not an easy proposition, lockdown or not. Here in Toronto, the sight of thousands of people congregating in an impromptu block party a few weeks ago at a popular downtown park on a sunny weekend afternoon was a shocking and sobering revelation that people’s willingness to accept the social distancing realities of the new normal public behavior just cannot be taken for granted—despite endless pleas by government officials and health experts to stay at home while the deadly COVID-19 pandemic continues to add significant numbers of fatalities and new infections to its grim and growing total.
Appalling as it seemed at the time, the widely publicized display of collective public amnesia and lack of personal responsibility is a reminder that the more things change in life, the more they tend to stay the same in the long term on some deep subconscious level.
As the celebrated American organizational systems scientist Peter Senge once famously opined: “People don’t resist change, they resist being changed.”
Although such instinctive resistance can be an honorable trait when it comes to defending righteous causes and principles, it can also be a monumental obstacle to further socioeconomic progress for mankind at large, and for thousands of business organization currently contemplating life after the COVID-19 lockdown.
For the relatively few businesses granted exemption from shutting down their doors to the public, some parts of that future working environment are already in place on what may well turn out to be permanent basis—plastic shields and fiberglass dividers at checkout lines at grocery stores being just a hint of how many other businesses will operate going forward.
And as the growing number of professional sports leagues around the world are cautiously revealing their plans for salvaging their suspended seasons without any fans being allowed inside the sporting venues, it’s increasingly hard to accept the anticipated disruptive organizational changes as becoming standard operating procedures.
Hard, but not necessarily impossible.
As noted management consultant Andrea Belk Olson, chief executive officer of business strategy development firm Pragmatic, writes in her recent blog, “There’s a portion of the organization that wants to maintain the status quo and another portion that’s ready and willing to change.
“So leaders often take a variety of approaches to get the other half on board, whether it be taking a hard line, amplifying communications, or reinforcing the logic of the decision.
“Yet, the problem isn’t the approach, but the change itself,” Olson states, noting that business leaders must consider the size, scope and impact of change on their employees in order to earn the required level of acceptance, however begrudgingly.
“We tend to roll out big changes and of course, there’s some appeal in the approach of taking the whole, well-described package and implementing it across an organization,” Olson writes.
“However, organizations don’t take into consideration—or prepare their teams for—the impact of the transition,” she adds.
“Right after a change, employees can struggle to get used to new processes or shifts in job responsibilities that might make them feel less accomplished in their roles.
“Even if these growing pains lead to great skill advancements and process improvements, that temporary space of feeling clumsy around the office doesn’t feel good. And that’s what people resist—giving up that sense of expertise, even if it’s temporary.”