We came across a good article on LinkedIn Pulse entitled “Managing Resistance to Improvement,” in which author John Shultz shares insights as to why improvements can cause anxiety and how to help people deal with their anxiety or concerns.
“Systems and processes exist in their current state because someone got them to that level of refinement,” Shultz explains. “Flawed and inconsistent as these practices may now appear, at some point in the past, an effort—possibly heroic—was made to coordinate activities and relationships to create a sense of order.
“Then over time those involved learned to compensate for gaps and made the system operational. In turn, these employees built a mental model about who they were and what they could do based on this arrangement for getting work done.
“Proposed improvements often threaten these mental pictures and create self-doubt because the new way of operating will require skills and social structures that are not familiar. The thought of uncertainty then produce anxious feelings about loss of identity, loss of position, and loss of face that give rise to guarded behavior.”
The article goes on to explain that these fears may take many forms from negative attitudes to active sabotage, and may become evident through reduced productivity, decreased quality, increased absenteeism, and produce increased grievances. The following are typical sources for anxiety:
- Comfort with current operations: The old way for getting work done has been in place for some period of time, and seems to be working fine. Process operators and stakeholders don’t see a need to “reinvent the wheel.”
- Doubt about the need and vision for improvement: There is uncertainty about the reason behind proposed improvements and how existing work structures and relationships will be impacted. The question—“what’s in it for me?”—has not been adequately answered.
- Concern over loss: There is a perceived fear over how improvements will affect acquired skills, salary, status, quality of work, or other benefits attributed to the existing process.
- Organization’s past history: Past proposals for improvement have been poorly handled—muddled implementation, lack of resources, inadequate training, or the eventual abandonment of activities—only to have remedies replaced by another “program of the month.”
- The proposed improvement is flawed: There is a realization that the new way for operating has real problems that will ultimately create difficulty in the current or adjacent processes.