My organisation is going through a great deal of upheaval, some of which affects me directly. I don't like it and I'm not convinced the new structures and processes will be as beneficial as is claimed. Should I try to resist the changes or just appear to go along with them and hope they go away?
A. 'Change is the only constant' has become a cliche but it is true that change is inexorable, and that the pace is hotting up. Management consultants identify the causes of change with the acronym Pest (political, economic, social and technological) and most considered change programmes take these factors into account. However, important as they are, they neglect a very common cause of organisational upheaval - new leadership. It is hardly surprising that an incoming boss would like to signal the start of his (or her, but mainly his) regime by instigating some tangible differences, but, sadly, this may prompt innovations that aren't needed and may indeed not be an improvement on the status quo, as you suspect is the case with your organisation.
To compound the problem, and because new leaders recognise the risks of untried methods and of doing things differently, their default setting is to appoint management consultants to define the problem and find the solution. This makes sense: the consultants are experienced, understand all the options and, with no vested interest, can take a helicopter view of what is needed. The downside of this detachment can be a failure to truly understand what's working well within the enterprise and should be left alone. I have yet to encounter a management consultancy that has declined an offer of work on the grounds that everything within the company is in perfect working order, even though major change is not required in every situation.
Even if the new structure and processes make good sense, there are still many reasons why the initiative might fail. They include poor implementation, insufficient resources, underestimation of the complexity of the process and, crucially, failure to adequately communicate the purpose of the changes and their expected benefits to those feeling their impact - which can lead to resistance. In the context of the changes in your organisation, some or all of these factors may be at play.
I have encountered three groups of people in terms of their reaction to change: enthusiasts; passengers, who are prepared to be carried along by the initiative; and prisoners, who resent the disruption to their working patterns and resist change. My guess is you find yourself in the prisoner category, but I wonder whether this is generally the way you react to enforced change or if your resistance is very specific to this set of changes.
If the latter, before you take either of the approaches you outlined - active resistance or passive ignoring - it is worth ensuring that you have the full picture of what's intended, why and what the impact will be on you. Ask for more information and consider carefully what you discover. On one hand, you may find that the new structure and processes make more sense and are more workable than you first thought, and you can see practical ways in which they can be implemented. On the other, you may discover some flaws that are worth pointing out to senior management, along with your suggestions on how these problems can be overcome.
The danger of outright resistance is that you could be seen as set in your ways, unwilling to embrace new ways of working, and this could have a negative effect on your progress. By investing some energy in thinking your way round obstacles to the innovations in structure and process, you will show you're not merely a naysayer but someone who has the best interests of the organisation at heart.
The option of keeping your head down and hoping the new initiative will go away would take less effort and might just work - a large proportion of change programmes don't succeed, often because of poor engagement by those involved in their implementation. But the danger is that the innovation will happen anyway and those around you who have participated more actively will steal a march on you in terms of their desirability for continued employment - an outcome I'm sure you'd prefer to avoid.
- Miranda Kennett is an independent coach. If you have a problem you'd like her to tackle, email: firstname.lastname@example.org