Change happens every day in organizations all over the world. Yet for many people, change can be scary.
Many of us like to hold on to a sense of safety and security. We get comfortable doing things a certain way, so being asked to do something differently can trigger emotions such as anger, frustration, depression, fear and anxiety. When we feel threatened by change, many of us find creative ways to push back and hold on to the status quo. I’ve noticed that even the most cooperative, supportive employees may resist change.
Even if the change initiative is intended to improve your employees’ situation, some of them may resist it because they believe that the change is not beneficial for them. They may believe that it will somehow negatively impact their work, violate their values in some way or threaten their finances, their health or their well-being. Some employees may worry about not being able to successfully adapt their behavior. Or they may not trust the people who are communicating the change or have observed previous poor handling of change in the organization.
It’s usually not the change itself that challenges us; it’s the psychological transition we experience that ultimately leads to success or failure. According to McKinsey & Company, “70 percent of change programs fail to achieve their goals, largely due to employee resistance and lack of management support.”
Bottom line: Your team members’ resistance can make or break your change initiative. The question is not whether you will encounter resistance, but rather how you can best manage that resistance and support your team throughout the change process. Leading people through the transition is essential for your organization to achieve its desired outcomes.
Effective change management can erode much of this resistance. As a Prosci Certified Change Practitioner, I’ve found that the key is to expect and plan for resistance and identify how you can best encourage buy-in and commitment. If you don’t take the time to do so, you may experience project delays, lower productivity, higher costs, inefficiencies, turnover of valued employees, changes not being fully implemented or even the change being totally scrapped.
To avoid these potential outcomes, develop a plan to mitigate the impact of resistance. Here are three strategies to get you started:
Identify The Root Causes Of Resistance
Many times, leaders manage resistance by responding to the observable symptoms, such as employee complaints, lower meeting attendance or employees simply not doing what they’ve been asked to do. However, focusing on the symptoms won’t solve the underlying problem that created the behaviors in the first place. To effectively navigate employee resistance, look deeper into the root causes.
Begin by considering the likely sources of resistance, such as employees who are the most invested in the current way of doing work and those who can expect to have their work negatively impacted as a result of the change. Once you have identified these individuals or groups, hold a series of discussions or workshops about the upcoming change. Give employees the opportunity to express their points of view in a nonjudgmental environment, and truly listen to their objections.
Then, find ways to address these barriers. For example, one of the best ways to overcome objections and build the desire for change is to offer choices. When possible, provide your team members with simple and clear choices along with the consequences of those choices. Put the ownership and control back into their hands. This can move them out of the position of victim and into the role of advocate, so rather than focusing on what they can’t control, they can feel empowered to focus on what they can create given the circumstances.
Involve Senior Leaders
Prosci found that “active and visible executive sponsorship” is the top contributor to the success of change initiatives.If senior leaders don’t commit to the change, or if they waver in their support, employees may perceive the change as unimportant and therefore resist it.
Here are three things you can do as a leader to demonstrate your commitment and involvement:
1. Be present and seen by employees from the start of the change initiative until the end.
2. Build a coalition of sponsors made up of other leaders and influencers who will give the change credibility and help manage resistance.
3. Communicate directly with employees to express the vision and reasons for the change.
Communicate The Change
How you communicate the change is the factor that often most affects how much resistance to change will occur. Employees must believe that the change is needed now, and they must clearly understand what might happen if the organization doesn’t change.
The key is to tell a compelling story to capture and leverage the passion and positive emotions surrounding the change. Describe the future state to inspire people to share in your vision. Include in this vision how individual employees fit into the new organization and how the change will benefit their careers. Be genuine and communicate the change with certainty. If you hesitate, you may introduce doubt. Align your tone of voice and body language with your message. Use positive language. Make sure you use a higher ratio of positive words versus negative/neutral words by avoiding limiting words like “should,” “must” or “can’t.” When individuals fully understand the benefits that the change will offer them, you’ll likely notice that much of the resistance disappears.
Additionally, employees must feel confident that they will receive the appropriate training and support to successfully adapt to the change. Imagine being asked to do something — to behave in a different way —without understanding specifically how to do it. Take the time to clarify expectations, assess the gaps in skills and knowledge that are necessary to support the change, and provide sufficient learning opportunities to fill those gaps.
Resistance is a natural reaction to change. Change can be uncomfortable and often requires a new mindset and behavior. However, you have the power to mitigate that resistance by supporting individuals throughout the change process and helping them realize the full benefits of the change.