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Dealing with Resistance

The ultimate goal of any change initiative is to establish new patterns of behavior amongst members of an organization and sustain them until they become part of the organizational culture.

Change Management- Dealing with Resistance


The ultimate goal of any change initiative is to establish new patterns of behavior amongst members of an organization and sustain them until they become part of the organizational culture. While it’s easy for an executive to make high-minded proclamations about how they want to change things in their company,  how well the employees of an organization adopt changes in the workplace can quickly determine the success or failure of a change initiative. The task every change manager is faced with is to find ways to gather support from each member in the organization for the intended changes. Consequently, there is no success in change management without individual behavior change.

The Kubler-Ross Curve (discussed further here) demonstrates how resistance to change is primarily an emotional reaction, and some form of it should be expected. In general, most people prefer stability and comfort over disruption and upheaval in their professional lives. Change practitioners will often find themselves having to mediate between these 2 paradigms - on the one hand, change has become the norm in the business world, thanks to technological advancements and shifting cultural norms. On the other hand, there will always be an innate inertia among people when leaving their comfort zone for reasons that are out of their control. 

The best way to deal with resistance is to engage with it proactively and preventatively. In this article, we go through some of the best practices to manage and overcome resistance.

A Compelling Vision and Transparent Strategy 

NOBODY changes for the sake of changing. Why would anybody leave their comfort zone to invest all the energy that is needed to acquire new competences, unlearn habits and replace them with new ones, without feeling any real urgency to do so? This is why it is important to provide your employees with a captivating vision of how great it will be working in this new future, why it is an improvement for all stakeholders and what has to be changed for the vision to become reality. 

While you may also achieve enough urgency by creating a collective fear of what might happen if things remain the same, negative emotions reduce cognitive abilities and well-being. Instead of running away from a threat, it is much more powerful to chase a realistic dream together! Employees will be much more willing to go through temporary uncertainty and discomfort if they have a story to hold onto that gives meaning to their efforts. 

Once this vision is planted in the minds of your people, make sure that they have as much clarity as possible about the process that’s needed to get there. Resistance results from various reasons. Among them is decreased psychological safety, which can be allayed by being honest about what is going to happen, what their roles are in the process and how they can influence the outcome. There will never be only positive news for everyone in a change initiative, and communicating those aspects transparently and with empathy will at least prevent speculation and increase trust in the leadership. 

Turn affected employees to active contributors

The best change managers know that resistance to change is a natural human response. Oftentimes, managing the resistance from the strongest dissenters can create the first meaningful steps towards a successful change initiative. However, before focusing on how to overcome it, you must first understand the source of their objections. The mere act of listening to what your employees have to say about the ongoing changes can go a long way in making them feel involved and supported throughout the process. They may even provide you with valuable insights that can help you shore up any deficiencies in your implementation strategy.

 Plan for quick-wins

When mapping out your plan to implement change, it’s important to break down your overarching strategic goals into smaller, progressive milestones that your organization can celebrate. This makes the prospect of organizational change less intimidating to employees and generates momentum for your initiative by setting up easy wins for your team. 

An important corollary to this is to identify key performance indicators (KPIs) that allow you to measure your progress quantitatively. This way you can show your team the benefits of your change program as they meet each milestone. Be sure to communicate those quick wins in the right way to strengthen the positive attitude towards the change, while also keeping up the awareness that the work is not over yet. 

Empower innovation and encourage creativity

Changes in the workplace are typically met with confusion, uncertainty, and anxiety. Fear of the unknown is a normal reaction. Employees find themselves in a liminal state, still attached to the old way of doing things and unsure about how to proceed to the desired end-state. However, this upheaval can also be framed as a time of transformation and renewal, wherein making mistakes can be a natural part of the process in navigating toward your strategic goals. By creating an environment that encourages people to take a proactive approach to the changes happening around them, you can unleash an incredible potential for innovation. Employees should be inspired to adopt a learning mindset, wherein they can consider how their previous methods can be improved (or done away with) and participate in creating new ways of working and adopt them in the process to achieve the best possible results. 

Conclusion: Be Open, Be Flexible

Change practitioners are called to manage the people side of change, which includes using a variety of techniques to address the root causes of change resistance in the planning and use its positive aspects to usher in a successful change program amongst everyone involved. Remember, change is inherently emotional- most employees are just finding the best ways to cope and each individual does so at their own pace. Change practitioners embrace this fact, knowing that where the biggest resistance lies also contains the biggest opportunity for growth. 

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