Imposed vs. chosen change: Managing change in business

Nobody likes change, right? Philip Cox-Hynd explores the difference between imposed and chosen change. 

Humans are amazing versatile creatures. We may prefer routines and feel completely at a loss if we don’t have things the way we are used to, but it is undeniable that it is within our capacity to make considerable changes so that we are more efficient or more contented in our environments.

Consider the wide range of people all over the world, who exist on diverse diets, in adverse natural conditions, and learn to do all sorts of impressive things with their bodies and minds, like scale trees barefoot or speak in five different languages. It is obvious that as humans, we can accommodate nearly anything that we need to.

But the factor that often decides the success of a change is how it comes about.

Although we can live our lives in remarkable ways to use the resources we have at hand, we are instinctively opposed to making changes that we haven’t chosen for ourselves. For this reason, implementing change as the leader of a group of people can often be a recipe for disaster, especially if the need for change is not acknowledged by the group you are managing.

It is obvious that as humans, we can accommodate nearly anything that we need to.

This style of leadership often results in despondence, lack of trust and harmony between the team, and wastes time and money. So what can be done to soften the blow of change in a business setting, and produce more successful results?

It’s easy to get carried away with the idea of ‘transformation’, which in this context is too strong a word: transformation implies a complete shift in essence from one polar opposite to the other. This severity of change isn’t practical in business, and is likely to be met with a cold response from others, stopping the effort dead in its tracks.

So, a good first step is letting go of the idea of ‘transformation’ and thinking more along the lines of ‘change’. Change doesn’t have such strong, binary implications and can be a much steadier journey.

Change Management (CM) is becoming more popular in business settings, because people are coming to see the benefits it brings to their companies and to individuals, and it is a gentler process throughout. It means adopting a leadership style that encourages a new direction, and leading by example with confidence, unity and dedication.

It also helps bosses to implement change in a communal way, inviting contribution and ideas from others. Involving individuals in the company’s attitude makeover, it takes on a far less imposed form, and becomes more of a collaborative project that everybody works on together.

The phrase ‘change or die’ comes up in business sometimes, and it can certainly get things off on the wrong foot. Most people will recall their rebellious teenage years, and how being told you must do something often makes you want to do the exact opposite, so putting the problem in such grave terms can make others defensive.

Instead of presenting change as an all-or-nothing matter, discuss the current problems the company is experiencing and communicate them in ways that your colleague will relate to, the way the problems up at the top may be boiling down to them, to the point at which others are happy to make suggestions of what the company can improve upon as a whole.

Personalising the situation to them will help stop the change from feeling quite so enforced.

At some point or other, you are going to need to look again at your company and make the conscious decision to make some changes. It is in everybody’s interests to be a mindful leader when change is being implemented, and when making decisions.

Asking for the participation of your team is an important step, and will open people’s minds to the idea of change, as they are participant in making it happen rather than having it dictated to them. For even more support, it is wise to quantify the success of the changes you implement (this is an essential step in mindful management).

Not only will your team feel empowered and positive about volunteering their ideas and playing an active part in taking the company to the next level, but their efforts will be proven by your success figures, allowing everyone to take pride in the positive change they have helped to bring about, and feel confident about business changes that may occur in the future.

Thinking about the way you make changes in your company, and adopting a more mindful style of leadership works wonders for every member of your organisation, and makes for a brighter future.


About the author

The co-founder of consultancy business Harley Young, Philip Cox-Hynd, dovetails his expertise in human development with strategy and process improvement to drive positive change in business. Philip’s expertise in business combined with a unique insight into human development led to him becoming a strategic and cultural change management expert. 


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