The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.
People hate it. They resist it. They fear it. And yet, change is an inevitable part of life. There's even a word for for the fear of change: metathesiophobia.
Nowhere is change more prevalent than in the workplace. Businesses are constantly generating, processing, analyzing and making decisions based on evolving data. In the almost Darwinian business world, it's essential to adapt to change -- specifically ones that can improve the bottom line.
If change is a necessary ingredient for success, why do so many in the workplace fear it? Change can be associated with uncertainty, new routines, office politics, loss of control or autonomy. Often, people prefer the “devil they know” to facing the unknown.
Traditionally, change management has been viewed as a one-time (or infrequent) event, governed by a specific set of methods and metrics. It could be related to a new product rollout, for which a company establishes internal management teams, training sessions, fresh corporate documents and flow charts.
Introduce transitioning on a rolling basis. But change should be recognized as an ongoing process -- a philosophy, not a one-off event. Historically, people have thought about change in the workplace as the transition from one way of working to another. The current (and future) workplace demands accepting change and embracing it. Indeed at any given time, employees in many workplaces are adapting to changes in new technology, projects and leadership.
Change management should not be viewed as a set of processes for moving from Point A to Point B, but instead a workplace philosophy that encompasses real-time collaboration, participation, alignment and awareness.
Recognize the next change leaders: millennials. So, if change is a prerequisite for the modern workplace, who will be leading the charge? Most likely millennials will be leading -- or heavily influencing -- change in the workplace of the future. Encompassing those born from the early 1980s to the early 2000s, millennials will represent 3 out of every 4 workers globally by 2025.
Change, it appears, is part of the millennial DNA. These workers thrive on constant engagement, collaboration, social relationships, transparency and social media. Millennials prefer to work at any time from anywhere, multitasking with “real-time” interaction. They also feel the need to contribute, share and be heard -- all characteristic of the democratic workplace.
The democratic workplace celebrates participation, making obsolete traditional hierarchies -- bosses in boardrooms and workers in cubes. Companies should articulate a democracy vision or mission statement that not only addresses change and participation but also mistakes. Active employee participation drives company innovation. An integral part of active participation is trial and error.
Understand that making mistakes is part of the process. There's that saying, “If you are not making mistakes, you are not moving fast enough.” Nowhere is that mantra more relevant than in the modern democratic workplace, where workers should ask for forgiveness, not permission. When people fear making mistakes, they are not participating, since participating includes exploring new product strategies and driving creative business models and the like.
The corporate landscape is littered with companies who resisted change -- and paid the price. Consider Polaroid. In the 1960s, the company could have been the Google of its time. Polaroid, however, failed to adapt to video and digital cameras and declared bankruptcy in 2001.
Blockbuster has a similar story. While the video rental chain made the transition from offering VHS tapes to DVDs, it has not adapted to the next big change: video-on-demand. Netflix sent videos via mail and cable companies offered video-on-demand. Meanwhile, Blockbuster’s retail stores are closing by the hundreds.
Adaptation is integral to corporate success. Think of it as “survival of the business fittest.” Before planning major initiatives like a new enterprise-resource-planning system rollout and plotting the number of transitions that must occur, outline a company culture that embraces constant change.
A democratic-focused company mission statement is the first step in managing ongoing change within an organization. Democracy and a “move fast, break things” approach are necessary for a company to become agile, highly adaptive and, most important, an innovative leader.