Overcome Resistance to Change

Change Management

Overcome resistance to change is a challenge most organisations face when undertaking major business or technology led transformation change. Some employees are thrilled with the new coffee machine, while others are in awe of the new project management software, while other team members are pumped about their new promotion. Change is good, and in a perfect world, change within an enterprise (business, government, or not-for profit) should always be a smooth process.

Implementing change is not an easy process and most organisations give this key component merely lip service. When budgets are diminishing or cut and timelines are not met, change management implementation is normally the first casualty. Change Management resources and timelines are cut so that the business objective of completing a project or transformation project on time and within budget can be met. Change management is (wrongly) perceived to be time consuming with little business benefit. Organisations that have resorted to this have seen the impact of this when benefits are to be realised. This is also borne out by some of the statistics we see on change management efforts:

  • 70% of change efforts fail to meet target impact.
  • 33% of change efforts fail because management behavior does not support the change.
  • 39% of efforts fail because employees are resistant to change.
  • 14% of efforts fail because of a lack of adequate funds or resources.
  • 14% of efforts fail for “other” reasons.

Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world. Surveys have shown that a third of executives and front-line professionals (nearly 37%) like the ‘status quo’ which is why change is not always an easy transition. The truth is, people rarely take change easily, because a new promotion means more responsibilities; a new coffee machine means having to give up the filter/drip for a multi-cup; and the newly integrated project management software comes with a considerable learning curve.

So, it is easy to see why employees, and sometimes, even management, rarely take change easily.


Why Resistance Occurs in Response to Change

In today’s business landscape, change is the only constant that surrounds us. Still, different businesses deal with change differently. When it comes to employees, change management can be especially difficult because, over time, employees tend to get used to the routine, and change is almost always disruptive, or in the least, pushes a workforce to adopt new strategies, mindsets, and well… routines.

Resistance to change occurs mainly because change is challenging, as it challenges the ‘status quo’, which makes it scary. Maintaining one’s current work routine is always much easier. Also, trying out something new for the first time means that there is a possibility of failure at your job, which is the main reason why many employees and organisations prefer to stay within their comfort zone.

Lack of trust about the change and its impact. Whenever change is introduced to an individual in a role, the biggest fear is about job security. Individual insecurity, poor communication and low engagement could be some of the reasons feeding the lack of trust.

Another major reason leading to a high resistance of change is the perceived lack of confidence in obtaining the new skills for the role. Fear of incompetence and how they would be evaluated by peers and their managers is another major factor.

In fact, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that even those who claim to relish change find it challenging, but the only difference is, they are up for the challenge. While some folks are born with ambition and are passionate about growing and accepting change, others remain reluctant for the reasons described above. The good news is that acceptance for this type of organisational change can be thought of by using the right Change Management techniques.

What Does Change Resistance Look Like?

When studied closely, change resistance appears in many organizations, regardless of their size, in the form of failed commitments, low morale, missed deadlines, and a general absence from meetings. All of these are signs that employees are not invested in the organization. In many instances, change resistance within an organization may also manifest in more obvious ways, such as mood swings in people, an increase in gossip, and an increase in arguments, or a general sense of apathy amongst employees. For any business looking to bring in change, it is important to keep a lookout for these tell-tale signs of change resistance within your organization.

Operational & Social Change

There are many types of change. We shall look at operational change and social change that have a major impact on the success of change. Working on both simultaneously is key to successful change management within an organization. Operational change is the “what” and “how” part of doing business. It is considered to be more difficult since it usually comes along with a steep learning curve.

For instance, if an employee in an auto manufacturer uses a spanner to open and fit automobile parts manually, introducing advanced machinery will make it more difficult and is known as operational change. This is mainly because, instead of using their manual skill to complete the task, they now must learn how to operate new machinery, which could take time and can also be difficult to learn.

Social change is when the employee has to perform their tasks under a new set of different rules and is required to adhere to imposed work routines, like having to report to a supervisor as well as a manager. This is considered to be social change since it alters the perspective of the employee on the job.

It is important for organizations to know what type of change they are looking to bring and the steps that will be required to make sure that the change is carried out smoothly without any hiccups.

Resistance prevention

One of the most persistent issues that organisations are faced with is resistance to change, whether it is from employees or middle management. For successful change, organisations need to understand the true nature of resistance. More often than not, employees show more resistance to social change as compared to operational change, as in, the change in their human relationships, which accompanies the operational change. Making sure that blind spots in managing social change are covered ensures that employees are more comfortable with change.

Resistance response

It is up to management to make sure that they take concrete steps to deal with change resistance constructively by addressing staff attitudes along with the operational changes. Some of the steps that the management can take include empathizing with their employees instead of adopting a reactionary stance. Other effective ways of effective change management are to emphasize new standards of performance for employees and encourage them to use different approaches and think differently to what they are used to. It should also be mentioned here that change resistance can also be a red flag to the timing and direction of the desired operational or social change.

Overcome Resistance to Change

Regardless of how careful one is, there is always going to be resistance to change that management will have to deal with proactively. The following are some of the steps that management can take to overcome resistance to change.

Anticipating Change

Business readiness is a big part of managing change resistance. How can you identify exactly what change is going to bring along resistance or which groups within an organization are going to feel the urge to resist change?

Tactical employee surveys or focus groups can target groups within an organization and need to be done prior to developing and change management plan. Employee feedback should form the cornerstone for developing a plan to overcome the resistance to change.

Here are some key questions that can be asked.

  • How will the proposed change impact the individual or the work group? Will it cause a high level of disruption?
  • Are the people being impacted by this change, actively involved, and engaged?
  • Is the proposed changed being perceived as of little benefit to them or the work group?
  • Have the outcomes of the proposed changed been communicated adequately as relevant to them and their roles?
  • What are the cost and benefits of the proposed change to the people impacted?
  • Are there any unclear expectations around the proposed change?
  • Have all the negative impacts been considered, remediated, and communicated?

Involve Senior Management

Change is only possible when all who are impacted within an organization is on board. This includes the persons impacted by the change, and more importantly, senior executives. If you have to introduce a new software system, plan your project through the lens of the employees that have to use it, keeping in mind the learning curve that’s involved. Ensuring you have senior executive support is key, to spearheading positive social change.

Training team members is also a key component of change resistance, which is why it is only natural that you will make sure that the natural leaders are on board first. This will eventually create a ripple effect that will move from the senior executives to lower-level departmental staff.

Furthermore, getting senior team members on board will also work to inspire and encourage others to follow suit. In this way, getting senior executives involved ensures that they will serve as influencers and role models for the rest.

Stakeholder engagement throughout the Lifecycle of the Project

Managing resistance to change is definitely not a one-time thing. Since there is no formula that is set in stone when it comes to change resistance management, the change resistance that an organization experiences are mainly going to depend on the type of organization and the experience and qualification of the staff guiding and implementing the change. Since resistance management is a full-time job, organizations need to manage resistance as an ongoing activity, especially throughout a project’s life cycle. Early engagement with stakeholders, especially at the start of the project, considering stakeholder input and incorporating feedback into your change management plans to minimize disruption and resistance will ensure, that the stacked odds against the success of your change effort will be minimized and the success and business benefits of the change can be realised.

Overcoming Change Fatigue

Most organisations have a wide variety of projects (business, technology) underway at any given time. Most of these projects are run as ‘silos’ with little or no inter project communication and awareness of timelines and the impact of concurrent change initiatives on individuals and groups. Often stakeholders get impacted multiple times with individual discrete project change efforts, asking for their input (sometimes the same input is communicated to multiple projects), requesting their participation in meetings, training or just getting bombarded with email communication daily. The natural and real reaction to the quantum of change in an organisation is “Change Fatigue”. Recognising the impact of change fatigue is an important step in overcoming resistance to change. Ensuring there is a coordinated effort and response to this is essential if organisational benefits from the proposed changes are to be realised.

Establish a Change Management Office

One way to overcome resistance to change and change fatigue is to establish a Change Management Office (CMO) to plan, manage, coordinate, and implement the many projects (change initiatives) operational at any given time. One should also consider “Business as Usual” improvement initiatives as projects that drive change. Centralised coordination (planning and management) of change efforts in an organisation will ensure that:

  • Change fatigue is reduced.
  • Stakeholders impacted by change are engaged more effectively and efficiently to reduce duplication of effort and information collection required for change impact analysis and training.
  • Change impacting individuals and groups is communicated in a planned and controlled manner, minimizing disruption at work, and reducing change related job stress.
  • Change confusion and saturation in an organisation due to competing change initiatives is minimized leading to the creation of an improved and better working and business environment.
  • All stakeholders have a consistent message that “join the dots” for them on how they will be impacted, why they are being trained and the benefits of the changes being introduced.

The Takeaway

Change is a necessary and inevitable part of business and organisations today, and only those individuals and organisations who are quick to adopt and adapt to changes both in their roles r and the industry will be able to benefit from the technological advancements and their integration into various business processes. Making room for change is a challenge that almost every business and individual must deal with at some point in time; however, it is a necessary transition, especially when it comes to professionals and companies who are implementing business agility to remain competitive.

To help guide businesses through the change process, there are highly specialized courses available that can help you customise and manage change within your organisation. If you are interested in learning how to be a successful change manager within your organisation contact us at info@ezyskills.com.au


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