All Articles Leadership Inspiration Struggling with change? Stop telling and start listening

Struggling with change? Stop telling and start listening

3 min read


This guest post is by Richard Bevan, former adjunct faculty member for the University of Washington Master of Business Administration program and author of “Changemaking: Tactics and Resources for Managing Organizational Change.” Find more information and resources at

Three common myths repeatedly cause change initiatives to run aground.

“People have a built-in tendency to resist change.”

The reality: People resist change that they don’t understand, see as poorly managed or think doesn’t help customers or themselves. Organizations that start with the assumption that change will be resisted might fail to explore what those involved think, feel and need — and can contribute.

Employees at the front line know the organization from the inside and often recognize the case for change as clearly as their leaders. But they need confidence that their needs, concerns and ideas are recognized.

How to overcome this myth:

  • Develop a brief summary to drive clarity and consistency.
  • Identify key stakeholders, and conduct an assessment of their concerns, questions and ideas.
  • Support managers by providing discussion guides, talking points, frequently asked questions and training.

“They can make the time to work through this and get it right.”

The reality: “They” — middle managers, for example — already have a heavy workload. They are being asked to take on another huge set of tasks and challenges, including dealing with questions and concerns from employees and customers.

When change initiatives struggle, it’s often because implementation is through some version of the “memo-and-conference-call” approach: Announce the change, trust that those involved will quickly learn and adapt, and hope for the best.

Overcome this myth:

  • Acknowledge the new workload: Adjust priorities, or engage additional resources, such as contractors and temporary transfers.
  • Assess key processes and systems, such as rewards, information technology and accounting, to ensure they align with and support the change.
  • Ensure senior leaders are visible, involved and remain open to questions, ideas and discussion.

“If we explain it carefully, everything will fall into place.”

The reality: Explaining the purpose and the process is certainly an important early step. But sponsors of the change also need to address others’ questions, concerns and alternatives. Effective execution is hard, sustained work. It involves multiple cycles of assessing, adjusting and continuing to course-correct.

Overcome this myth:

  • Keep leaders, managers, human resources staff and others engaged and informed through conference calls, e-mail bulletins and online forums.
  • Include change-related information in existing media, or develop methods, such as an intranet page focused on the change.
  • Maintain focus on monitoring and course correction. Provide channels for feedback and ideas. Document questions and issues, and share responses.

Change can happen without clarity, resource support and engagement. But it’s likely to be difficult, expensive and painful, for customers as well as for employees.