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Managing Resistance Change

Date Published: Nov 28 , 2022

The modern workplace is defined by change - this is a cliche and for good reason: markets, organizations, labour and entire industries have undergone seismic shifts in recent years. These pressures and changes are likely to continue through the near future.

A perennial problem for businesses is employee resistance to change. Since change is unavoidable in today’s fickle economy, leaders must carefully design and implement their change initiatives. A change resistance strategy must also be developed. Here we look at why and how.

Reasons for Resistance to Change

Why is change resistance a common problem? Blame it on human nature. People are wired to look for patterns that indicate predictability. Change defies patterns and creates uncertainty, which can trigger discontent and anxiety.

Managing Resistance Change

Beyond the general fear of the unknown, reasons for employee hesitancy those managing resistance to change should be aware of include:

  • Lack of trust - this is often connected to the leader or the leadership team.

  • Loss of stature or security - employees worry that their role will be reduced or eliminated.

  • Fear of failure -  there may be concern about the failure of the entire change plan or of the individual’s performance.

  • Too much change - there is too much change at once or there has been an ongoing change for too long.

  • Poor communication - plans for change are sound, but were not clearly communicated to staff in a timely manner.

5 Strategies to Minimize Resistance Change

Minimize and potentially avoid change resistance by incorporating these four simple strategies into your change plans:

1. Say What Is In It for Them

Start with outlining the purpose of the change and how meeting these goals will directly help the team. In other words, show what is in it for them.

Your team is more likely to trust your leadership if you demonstrate a clear direction for the change initiative. Stating how it benefits staff illustrates that you are considering their perspective. And of course, employees will be more motivated to jump on board if they see the personal advantages.

2. Involve the Executive Team

Employees naturally take cues on behaviours and company norms from executives. Your C-levels and upper management need to be engaged in communicating change initiatives and signalling their support for them. The executives do not have to be involved in implementing the program or managing resistance to change, but their actions should set the example of having faith in the transition.

3. Communicate Effectively

Clearly inform staff what the changes involve, how and when the rollout will be implemented, and what expectations there are of employees. Again, state the goals and how these will positively impact staff.

Be conscientious about when the information is divulged. In particular, waiting too long until the transition is about to launch does not give employees ample time to process the imminent adjustments. Consider your communication channels too. In many cases, an all-staff meeting is the appropropriate vehicle to first deliver the news. Rely on follow-up communications to constructively reinforce your points. This may be in the form of emails, a specified messaging channel and/or team meetings.

4. Make It About Individuals ​

Account for the human impact of organizational adjustments. Failing to do so is a major reason for resistance to change.

Consider one-on-one meetings between team members and their direct supervisors to assess employee adaptation. Encourage forthright conversations and a method for tracking employee progress. Managers should offer guidance and resources to their reports. Training and upskilling programs that fill in skills gaps and assuage hesitant workers will be part of a smart change strategy.

4. Anticipate Cultural Shifts

There are many types of change initiatives, with the two broadest categories being technical (or operational) and social. Often these go hand-in-hand. In particular, operational changes frequently inspire cultural adjustments.

Managing resistance to change means anticipating cultural shifts that arise from technical transformations. Clearly, any variations to the organization’s social order should be directed towards positive outcomes, such as improved manager-team communications or enhanced employee education programs. See the opportunities in budding cultural changes and seize them!

5. Managing Resistance Change

Despite your best efforts, some intransigent employees may fight the changes coming their way. Resistance to change manifests in overt behaviours, such as increased resignations or reduced production, or subtler forms, like an uptick in employee complaints or staff languor. A smart leader managing change resistance is sensitive to these clues and swiftly intervenes.

After change resistance has been identified, the next step is to find out why. Speak with employees to learn their concerns. If there is poor awareness about the full implications of the initiative, consider other communication strategies to support employee understanding and acceptance of the changes.

Besides taking employee concerns at face value, dig a little deeper. You may discover underlying operational or cultural dysfunctions contributing to employee unease.

For example, a team may be in the habit of taking directives verbatim from managers or company headquarters. The new operational changes, on the other hand, require that the team follow the spirit rather than the letter of instructions. Here the team needs a cultural adjustment that inspires them to interpret managerial guidance and implement it in their own ways.

In short, managing resistance to change means being a hands-on leader who appreciates the human impact that change initiatives have on employees, and collaborates closely with workers to ensure they adopt and comfortably adjust to the changes.

Priority Management is a worldwide training company with 55 offices in 15 countries. We have successfully trained more than two million graduates in Priority workshops. Our programs help companies and people be more effective and manage their workflow in and out of the office by providing tools, processes and discipline. Simply put - A Better Way To Work! Clients range from Fortune 500 companies, small-to-medium businesses and government/military employees.

Click Here to learn more about how Priority can help you and your team WorkSm@rt, develop essential management skills and the competencies to....make life and work better and happier!

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