Learning to value people’s fear of change

Change process

Early on in my career, I worked for a business consultancy that was looking to improve the operational effectiveness of organisations by re-engineering their business processes.  We were very proud of the approach we used and the innovative solutions we developed with our clients.  An early assignment for me was working on an Aerospace Repair & Overhaul organisation looking to improve the repair turnaround time, to make the organisation more competitive.  

We created a full-time project team of 8 people, and during our analysis and design phase we communicated regularly with the people in the organisation.  Inevitably they came back with challenges and questions and in some of the sessions I took this personally, feeling that they were questioning the credibility of the project team and the credibility of the solutions that we had developed.  A short while later, I read a paper about the transition curve and I came to understand that fear and questioning are an inevitable part of change for those involved.  I also discovered that in the questions that they were asking they were looking to understand whether the change was necessary and what it would mean to them.  I concluded that if we can involve the people already in the organisation in the change process, it can be a better outcome for all concerned.

I also began to understand that the people to fear in the change process are those who did not have fear and concern, because they did not have any commitment to the change process. 


If you are a leader in the senior leadership team or a practitioner undertaking business transformation, it is important to follow 3 steps:

  1. Be clear about the importance of breaking the current status quo.  If people come back and challenge what is being proposed saying “isn’t this just change for change’s sake”, they are not convinced that the current status quo cannot continue.
  2. Communicate the direction of the business for the future.  What is it about the future that will be different from the present to make it more successful? 
  3. Engage the people in the organisation to work on developing a better solution and a better implementation process.  Allow them to use their questioning to improve what is being proposed.  For example, present your proposals to them and ask them to come back with what they see the benefits as being, what concerns they have with the proposals and what changes or improvements would they make.  

If you are leading change in an organisation, avoid taking the expressed fears and concerns personally.  Instead look to involve people, with their fears and doubts, to make a better solution for the organisation and themselves.


If you are interested in learning more about leading change in organisations, I suggest that you read Changing Spots – a systems approach to managing change.  You will find more details at www.changingspots.co.uk.

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