Think People Have a Tough Time With Change? Just Ask Facebook

If you spent any time around Facebook last week, you probably know that they changed things up with how they display information.

It was a big deal to some people. I mostly follow friends and family on Facebook, and I saw everything from confusion, to outrage, to not caring about the change.

These aren’t social media experts or power users. These are people who come online to view pictures of their grandkids or to “like” every single one of my status updates (thanks for that). It isn’t about technological savvy either, it is about adherence to a daily routine.

The more important point is that it gives us an honest glimpse into how people actually roll with change. It’s something we rarely see in the wild.

Of course I deal well with changes

Several years ago, we were talking about making several changes at the organization I was working for. We had meetings with all key stakeholders, presented our case and all were okay with the change. Or at least, that’s what I thought.

Whether it be the realities of the economy, internal culture or something else, people are more willing to say they support change, even if they have reservations about it. People who actually don’t deal well with change (which, by the way, is most of us) do their best to disguise it.

While a certain number of people probably do deal well with changes, it is hard to identify it without having to channel Sherlock Holmes.

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What I found out several years ago was that people who don’t actually support change will never explicitly say it. They will talk about the need for more time to analyze, schedule more meetings, involve more people, and call in those who they know have a vested interest in keeping the status quo. They “fully support” what we were doing, but they just wanted to get specifics in line and get consensus.

These are the leaders of the company, too. They are the ones who definitely see the organization beyond their silo. When you break it down to employees though, you have even more issues.

Facebook illuminates change issues

Rather than the posturing that happens in the workplace, it was almost refreshing to see people abhor or be confused with the changes to Facebook so openly. When these changes happen in the workplace, their conversations are limited to lunch time conversations with workplace confidants or venting to a spouse or friend. And even though I am more than willing to joke about people’s inability to change at the speed Facebook changes, it really does teach us some lessons:

  1. Large swaths of people will initially hate all change. While something changing on Facebook should be inconsequential to life in general, we know that large groups of people will react negatively to this. Think about that when we add in the fact that work is how we make our livelihood, and changes at work can be much more traumatic. Even if politics or culture won’t let them openly express it at work, you should know that any change is going to be hated by many folks.
  2. Lack of communication is to blame. If we are to believe many of the folks who I follow on Facebook, the lack of communication behind changes (and lack of notice) are one of the biggest gripes. If change is resisted, sudden, uncommunicated changes are doubly so. Even though I hear about changes through the news sources I follow before I see them on Facebook, most people do not. That means posting an update to official sources (such as a newsletter or intranet site) is not enough by itself.
  3. Don’t try to logically defend change to those who automatically reject it. A few of the people I’ve talked to about recent changes don’t necessarily have a logical reason to reject them but feel like the product was fine as is. For whatever imperfections we see in the current processes at work, people see those processes as the way things are done. Slowly introducing and pushing folks into change seems to be a better way of seeing whether change will be accepted.
  4. Most eventually adapt to the new way. For better or for worse, most people eventually adapt to the new way of doing things on Facebook. That doesn’t necessarily mean there is an inevitability to change being accepted (after all, poor changes can often be roundly rejected), but if your change is well thought out and implemented okay, you should be assured that it will, eventually, get the okay from most of your employees.

We can learn a lot from observing people in the process of change without the filters that we might normally see in the workplace.

You can bet that even if people aren’t showing the outrage and confusion that those on Facebook showed when their virtual world was turned on its side, that it exists somewhere and that it should be a consideration for any change initiative you make.

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