Change Rollback – Beware the underground resistance

Organisations celebrating successful transition to a new management structure, systems environment or organisational culture can not afford to rest on their laurels even for a short time. Change initiatives can so easily encounter circumstances where senior management have become victims of Change Rollback. In these cases systems and processes they thought had been replaced with new and better ways of doing things were subtly being reversed to the old inefficient ways. In other words, somehow the reforms weren’t “sticking”.

“The secret of success is constancy of purpose”  – Benjamin Disraeli

Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881)

Effective change is never random in its objective and success in implementing change requires that the objective be made clear to all and that it be a constant focus of the change management activity. 

Change in the workplace, especially change that challenges old and inappropriate values, is not always welcomed by those affected and whilst overt resistance might be dealt with initially there is the prospect of some resentment “going underground” to emerge in due course to create new dysfunctions and threaten the positive gains made through the original reforms. This Change Rollback phenomenon tends to flourish where Management fails to sustain the change momentum well into the stabilisation phase. That is, where early successes are mis-read as fully resolved and the necessary bedding down of the reforms is not completed.

In these circumstances the credibility of the change management program is at stake. Superficial restructuring or systems changes that do not have a rigorous implementation strategy should be avoided….AND that strategy must have a strong theme of engagement with those who are resistant to the change to identify and negate Change Rollback threats. Bringing people along is important, but not everyone comes at the first call.

“Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have—and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up.” — James Belasco and Ralph Stayer, Authors of Flight of Buffalos

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When the pressure is off, change rollback begins

Change rollbackChange Management is not a simple undertaking and often old habits and redundant values remain submerged but still influential in the workplace culture. They lie dormant while active programs of awareness and re-education have a high profile, but as the pressure eases the rollback begins as the old guard seeks to re-establish its dominance. This is regularly demonstrated in areas of organisational culture.

Some practices and attitudes from bygone eras that are unacceptable today, such as bullying and harassment, still emerge from time to time and require eternal vigilance on behalf of management to eradicate their effects. So it is that the custodians of positive culture in organisations recognise the need to continually measure and review progress in  developing that positive state. ..and to act to repair or heal any departures as quickly as possible when they are observed.

Another curse laid at the door of Change Managers is the reluctance to act decisively against deviations from the charted course. The only way to ensure successful transition from the old to the new is to emphasise Management’s solid commitment to the new direction (having of course verified that it is a better direction) and then acting to implement the change as expeditiously as possible, commensurate with care and risk management. The more change, especially major change, is allowed to drag on in implementation the greater is the chance that reactionary influences will begin to detract from the desired benefits. There is nothing more frustrating for staff at all levels than to feel that the journey has no end.

The secret is to allow the change activity to have an observable conclusion but to maintain a change sustainability watching brief to guard against Change Rollback until the new paradigm is mature and self-sustainable.

Well managed organisational change is led by good planning, confident direction and committed follow through.

If you need help with your change management, call in Reinforcements!

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