Change. We hear about it in the business world all the time. There are whole sections of business books dedicated to change. How to force it, how to lead a change organization, how we must change or die.
I’m a change guy. I love it. I even get antsy if things stay the same for a while. My belief is this comes from my personality and a lot from my background too. I’m an IT guy. Change and technology go hand-in-hand.
I started my professional career at Microsoft in the early 90s. At Microsoft in the 90s everything changed. Constantly. Technology, jobs, managers, they all changed at a breakneck speed as the company grew at an unheard-of pace. Heck, if you hadn’t moved offices in more than six months, you started to wonder what was up. It was exciting. New challenges were around every corner. For someone like me, it was paradise. I was hooked. IT was my passion and I was in it with both feet. Change became part of my core.
Over the next 10 years, I shifted around a few jobs. I always brought a wave of change with me. The reality is that it didn’t always sit well with folks. If I couldn’t get things to change, I’d leave and find a new job.
Fifteen years ago, I landed in Montana in an accounting firm. Some may smile. Accounting firms aren’t known for their wanton embrace of change. But this firm was different. Many of the owners and staff embraced change. The rapid change in technology has forced change on many industries, and the accounting industry has been hit with technology to its core. They live and die by the technology they use to service their clients.
As with any business, our firm had, and has, resistance to change. I’ve given this topic a lot of thought as I’ve navigated my way through my career, and now as an owner, leader, and entering the “old” group at the firm, I have some thoughts. Not answers, mind you, but some thoughts that may help you navigate change in your organization and help you maintain a healthy culture of change.
I believe there are lots of reasons for resisting change that makes it difficult to diagnose the cause of the resistance and how to address it.
Ultimately, it boils down to a couple of factors. Age is frequently thrown out as the factor. Older members of an organization resist change. As with most generalizations, there is probably some truth to that, but the true cause is likely one, or a combination of, other factors that reach across generations. There are many examples of senior leaders and members of organizations driving change and keeping up with it. I think the root factors are something else…
- Personality: Our firm does a great deal more than traditional CPA work. We are business consultants that offer a long-term partnership with our clients to help them succeed. One of those areas we offer is in Human Resources, and more specifically, personality identification and training on dealing with different personalities. This process of identifying one’s personality, and then learning the other personality types and traits, is incredibly valuable in both leading an organization and being content in one’s role. Personality may be the greatest factor in embracing or resisting change. Certain personality traits love change. That’s me. It’s a struggle for people with my personality type to even understand others resistance to it. Other personality types want deliberate and complete research into a change and its potential effects. They can’t understand how folks like me can just make a change without thinking through the consequences. The challenge in this, is that both sides are right. And change is hampered by all personality types. Those that charge in, and those that want every detail worked out prior to changing something.
- Security: One of the factors in resistance to change is security in one’s job and value. It speaks to both how we feel about ourselves and how we feel others in our organization see us. We are good at what we do. This is particularly true if we are experienced in the role we perform. We know the process. We can almost walk through our work on autopilot. We are accurate, dependable, and thorough. Change breaks that security. Oftentimes a technology comes along that will automate, or simplify what we do. Will we still be needed? Can I learn something new? Will I be as good at the new process as the current one? Will I be relevant? Valued…? A contributor…?
- Fear: Not fear as in the boogey man, but fear of failure. Individuals may resist change because they do not want to fail. This fear can be crippling and is often caused by the tone at the top of the organization. Employees are afraid to make a change that will result in a misstep. We can’t make a mistake….
In summary, I think it’s clear that change is inevitable. Change causes stress in our personal lives as well as our professional lives. So, what do we do? How do we lead and embrace change?
Ultimately, the solution boils down to trust. We need to build trust in our managers, each other, and our organizations to address the factors outlined above. Many companies lose their ability to rapidly adjust to change as they grow. A big factor in that is a loss of trust. They grow to a size where that personal connection to each other becomes difficult, if not outright impossible. It is easy to trust those that you know well, it’s tougher to trust at a distance. Add in the challenges of personality, security, and fear, and we are really fighting an uphill battle.
To solve this change challenge, we must build an understanding of one another’s personality traits and understand that we need all types and views in an organization. Let’s face it, an organization with everyone with identical personality types would be a disaster (and boring). We need to trust that, although we may approach things differently, we can still get where we are going and that everyone has the same end-goal. We also need to trust that although sometimes it may be uncomfortable, or even frustrating, the goal can still be reached. There’s more than one path…
We must trust that we bring value to our organization. That if we find a new way to do something, we will also find new, higher value challenges that we will enjoy. We must trust that our value is far greater as an expert of the big picture than of the details.
And lastly, we must be willing to fail sometimes. There is nothing wrong with failure, unless you make it your last effort. We learn and expand far more from our mistakes than from the things we get right the first time. We must trust that management isn’t going to overreact to mistakes. And most importantly, as managers, we must trust that our staff will learn, improve, and in the end make our clients, services, and products better!
Change is life. We all can do it, but sometimes we just need to understand why we struggle in embracing it.
Robert Culpon is the Chief Operations Officer for Anderson ZurMuehlen Technology Services (AZTS). With over 25 years of IT experience with companies of all sizes, Robert leads AZTS’s technology initiative of bringing a true IT partnership to their customers. AZTS supplies technology solutions including Desktop as a Service, Security, and Business Intelligence. With over 60 years of experience in professional services, Anderson ZurMuehlen brings a unique approach based around a partnership with its clients. Robert can be reach by emailing email@example.com.