Learning From The Frog And The Scorpion

ONE OF THE GREATEST DIFFICULTIES in management is dealing with resistance to change. I have seen many plans and improvement projects fall apart simply because this issue has not been appropriately addressed.
We all have the tendency to resist change because change means giving up comfortable habits or venturing into unknown territories. We would all rather maintain the status quo because it is a lot safer.
Yet we can’t run away from change. Change, like death and taxes, is always present. Organizations that fail to respond to change will eventually fall. Of the top 100 American companies listed in 1900, guess how many of them are still around today? Answer: only 16.
84 top companies just vanished in the space of 91 years! The inability to respond to a changing environment is one main contributing factor to their demise. As Harvard professor Dr. Rosabeth Moss Kanter said, “Those organizations which either fail to understand the need for change or are inept in their ability to deal with it, will fade or fall behind – if they survive at all.
So organizations must change in order to deal with external changes. In order for an organization to change, the people in it must change too. However, people, by their very nature see change as a threat rather than as an opportunity.
To get people in an organization to respond positively to change is to help them see the opportunities in it. The Chinese word for “crisis” is made up of two characters, one meaning “danger” and the outer meaning “opportunity”. This gives rise to the saying that behind every crisis lies an opportunity.
Management guru Peter Drucker once said, “The entrepreneur always searched for change, responds to it and exploits it as an opportunity.”
Successful individuals and organizations recognize that things must and will change. Therefore, they position themselves to exploit change while others scurry to protect themselves from it.
In organizations, people resist change because it is something over which they have no control. Too often, the reasons for the change are not clearly communicated to the staff and therefore, they see it as a threat. This is especially so when they feel that their job security is being threatened, or their competence questioned. An example would be the case of an elderly employee being told he has to be computer-literate or else. He is not likely to see this new requirement as an opportunity to learn something but instead feels that his job is being threatened. Naturally, he will resist.
How then should one deal with resistance to change? Employees need the following factors conveyed to them in order to go through change successfully:

  1. Specify reasons for the change

People need to be sold to. Telling them that it “has got to be this way” will not gain their commitment to the change. Providing reasons for the proposed change eliminates the “fear of the unknown”.

  1. Accurate and specific information

It is necessary to avoid hiding the truth. If full information is held back and sincerity is in question, the level of trust drops, while the level of resistance rises.

  1. Opportunity and encouragement to give feedback

There is a saying: “People commit to what they themselves create.” If they feel they are a part of the change efforts, commitment is much higher.
Unfortunately, in many organizations, getting people involved is often neglected. While the intentions were never to ignore the employee’s feedback, there is a need to actively solicit for them.

  1. Clearing personal doubts and providing reassurance

Employees going through change will have concerns, particularly with regard to their own self-interest. It is therefore important to provide them with the opportunity to raise questions so that their doubts can be addressed. Constant reassurances will make them more positive about pending changes.
In the area of change, one of the concerns brought up by managers is how to deal with what they refer to as deadwood – people who have been in the organization for many years and are not receptive to change. Most managers’ focus is on changing these seemingly difficult people into more obedient and compliant employees. If this is the focus, then, the results will be difficult to achieve.
No one will change just because someone else insists that they do. People will only change if they themselves feel the need to change, and understand that the change is good for them. The issue is, therefore, not how to change people, but how to influence them to want to change themselves. Obviously, if you have not been successful in dealing with deadwood, then the first change has to get to come from you.
Start by changing your approach. Firstly, referring to them as deadwood is negative. Perhaps you should consider them as a challenge to your ability to manage change instead. To be better equipped to manage change with employees, it is necessary to understand the various ways they react to change. This includes what I refer to as the scorpion way of facing changes.
The story goes like this: A frog is looking to cross a river on a rainy day. As he is about to swim across, a scorpion comes up to him and asks, “Frog, can you give me a lift across the river? I can’t swim and I need your help.”
The frog replies, “You must be crazy. You are a scorpion! You might sting me and I will die.” The scorpion retorts, “Don’t be foolish! If I sting you and you die, I will drown.” Upon hearing this, the frog agrees to help him.
Halfway across the river, the scorpion stings and paralyzes the frog. As the frog begins to sink, he asks the scorpion why he broke his promise. The scorpion replies, “Frog, I know it’s foolish of me to sting you, but I have a problem. You see, I’m a scorpion and I’m born to sting. I can’t change.”
Some people in organizations behave like scorpions. They claim they can’t change because that’s the way they are. But like the scorpion, they will perish.
The other typical reaction to change is denial. We pretended everything is okay and there is no need for us to adjust. If you take a frog and throw it into a pot of hot water, it will react by jumping out immediately. If you out the same frog into a pot of cold water, it will settle down. If you then proceed to the pot over a fire and boil the water, what do you think the frog will do? Actual experiments have proven that the frog in the pot will become hot soup!
There are people in organizations who behave like that frog. They are aware of change going on around them but insist that it does not affect them and continue to do what they have always done. Eventually, the refusal to change will put them out of place, and like the frog, they will be boiled alive.
If you are dealing with a lot of scorpions and frogs in your organization, it is necessary to have a process for managing change. One of the first things one must be able to do is to carry out a change meeting. This s a meeting to introduce changes, and the objective is to get their commitment to change.
Consider the following format:

  1. Explain the need for change and how it came about

Example: “I am calling this meeting to explain the change of responsibility between the both of you. The change is part of the organization’s new policy to provide employees with multi-skills to help them in their career development,”

  1. Describe the change in detail

Example: “The exact change will involve the following…”

  1. Explain how the change will affect the employee

Example: “this change of responsibilities will have some effect on you. Some of the aspects that will be affected are…”

  1. Ask for questions and concerns

Example: “I know some of you will be a little apprehensive about this. The best thing to do is to sort out my concern so we can make the change as smooth as possible. What are some questions you might have?”

  1. Listen to their feelings and respond with empathy

Some people ask questions but they don’t listen. It is important to listen and empathize their feelings.

  1. Share your own feelings whenever appropriate

Example: “I understand how you feel about this and am aware of the concerns you have. Personally, I am quite worried about it myself, but I feel that since the new system works in Singapore, it can’t be that bad. Furthermore, if we pool our efforts together, we can pull this through.

  1. Ask for the employee’s support and commitment to make the change work

Example: “Well, we have talked quite a bit about this. Can I count on you to make this work?”

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