Reasons why so many changes fail #8 Leaders fail to appreciate the power of fear

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Reasons why so many changes fail

#8 Leaders fail to appreciate the power of fear

Fear of change is deeply personal. The thought of a big change can evoke pictures of relocations or downsizing. People worry that they may be fired. They worry about their families and their careers. Personal fear trumps the organization’s need to change. When fears are triggered, human’s ability to take in information goes down. In other words, people can’t hear what we’re talking about even if they try. Fear does that to people.

Some organizations trot out research that suggests that a certain percentage of people are early adopters of new things and others are late adopters. They announce this as if there were no way to influence the number of people who get excited about helping a change be successful.

Or leaders apply the stages of death and dying to organizational change. They assume that people will go into denial, get angry, start to bargain, slip into depression, and then accept the change. All the leader has to do is wait for people to get done feeling bad. (By the way, there seems to be precious little to indicate that these stages of grieving even fit most people when it is an actual death we’re talking about.)

This notion makes a deadly assumption that all changes are good, the leaders know best, and that once employees realize their cheese has moved, all be right with the world. This view of employees is paternalistic, condescending, and arrogant. These leaders might as well wear t-shirts that read Trust Me, I Know Best – Now Get Back to Work. (This is adapted from my forthcoming book, Beyond the Wall of Resistance: Why 70% of Changes Still Fail – and What To Do About It. You can pre-order the book by clicking on the link you see on this page.)