Scenario 3

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The project team is going to begin working from a different office across the city. This will make it easier to have face-to-face meetings with the customer and allow closer contact with related project teams.

You informed the team by making an extremely detailed presentation explaining the rationale. The business case is clear.

Team members have reacted in different ways:

  • a number are just carrying on as normal making no preparations for the move
  • some are openly complaining and want to transfer away from the project
  • others seem quite happy and have already begun packing their things

How can their reactions be so different?

Firstly, their reactions could be completely rational. Relocating to the new office could add or subtract hours to their daily commute. So we need to be aware of how the relocation affects each individual outside of work.

The reactions could be because the individuals are at different points on the change curve

Whenever change is imposed, emotions are triggered because of uncertainty, threats to autonomy (‘I am being pushed around’) and concerns over status (‘Will I still have a corner office?’), status (‘Will I still have the same responsibilities and powers?’), relationships (‘Will I still be working with my friends?’) and competence (‘Will I have the skills I need in this new environment’).

The people who are carrying on as normal may be in the Denial stage. The complainers may be in Resistance and the ones who are already packing could have reached Exploration or even Commitment. Where people are on the curve will depend on a whole range of factors: their personality, how important their job is to them financially, the impact of others’ opinions, current workload …

As a leader, one needs to identify the needs of the individual and then adapt one’s approach.

  • Denial – confirm the change is happening, reiterate in writing, push for small movements.
  • Resistance – lots of active listening, asking open questions to ensure that the individual feels that they have been heard. Involve in discussions about how to make the best of the situation. Reiterate that the change is happening.
  • Exploration – help them to focus on what is important and prioritise their actions. Look for some small wins to maintain momentum.

The image above shows the generic change curve. It is best to think of it as a ‘smoothed’ curve; there will be ups and downs along the way.

Have you yourself experienced imposed change? How was your experience? Did it conform to the generic curve or was your change curve a different shape? If you’re comfortable doing so, please share in the comments below.