(This is the text version of the video presentation I released last week. Click on the link to watch the video on Dealing with Resistance to Change.)
Before trying to overcome resistance to change in your team or even before planning your change process, it’s worth considering the reasons why people might be resisting change. You can then design ways to reduce resistance or provide your team members with relevant support during the transition.
In this post, I talk about four different reasons why change at work might be resisted and what you can do to make the transition easier. I also explain why you should take resistance seriously. Far from always being just a block, it sometimes flags up real problems with the change programme.
So, why do people resist change?
Feeling safe helps people work at their best – for example by feeling supported or able to take risks. While sometimes it might not be possible to avoid an element of surprise when change is introduced, you should try to minimise surprises. The unexpected can inject a small amount of fear into us, it can make us feel like we are not in control, like what we contribute doesn’t matter. Our defences come up and it will be easier to block a change than accept it without knowing where it will lead.
Sometimes it might be unavoidable to announce a big change suddenly or to prepare our team. In this case, be ready for quite a bit of resistance and explain why confidentiality had to be kept until the last minute. But where possible, consult beforehand, speak to people about your plans and avoid other surprises along the way.
Organisational change does not involve an organisation changing, it involves its people changing. This might mean changing the way we do things at the computer, the people we work with, our responsibilities or changing our daily routine: it all involves throwing our habits out of the window.
We adopt habits so that we don’t have to spend a lot of energy thinking about every little thing we do during the day. However, when we have to adapt to change, we need to “rewire” ourselves. Activities or jobs which we could do almost on auto-pilot or at least with the confidence that we could do them well, suddenly demand 100% of our brainpower.
Expect people to take longer and be less productive as they adapt to a new way of working. Give them time and check in with them often (use your common sense to gauge how much support different people need) as they will not always ask for help for fear of looking incompetent or just difficult.
No matter how much information you give people there will always be uncertainty. Uncertainty about the way in which things will turn out, uncertainty about whether they (or the whole team, or even your organisation) will be able to deliver, uncertainty about how it will affect their personal lives… The list is endless.
In addition to this, the emotions that arise during change can also make it difficult for people to take in information. Try to communicate in different ways and at different times. When possible, communicate face to face so that you can see in people’s faces and body language how much information is being taken in and whether they are likely to be worried or uncertain about what they are hearing.
Welcome questions even if it means you have to cover old ground. When people need to hear information more than once it doesn’t always mean that they weren’t listening (or reading) in the first place. It might well be that they didn’t really know what to do with the information or that they are not sure that they have understood correctly. Or simply, that at the time, they were suffering from information overload.
The fact that people feel like they are no longer in control at work will come as no surprise after the previous points. This is specially the case when there has been no input or consultation and people feel like the change is being forced upon them.
This is why it’s important to consult with team members before the change is implemented or as soon as it is announced. It’s also useful to identify those things that haven’t changed and those processes which are still to be defined. This will help people feel like they still have a part to play in their destiny and that they can still influence how they are perceived in the organisation.
These are some of the reasons which make change programmes difficult to implement as people resist change. But beware, in trying to overcome resistance, do not forget to see whether your team members have reasons for challenging change. There might be good reasons why people are resisting change or finding it difficult to implement it. The experts might come across problems that the strategists couldn’t foresee. Maybe not enough resources have been allocated or maybe even, other changes need to take place before the planned change can be integrated into the organisation. (For more on this, see the post Five Reasons Why We Should Welcome Resistance During Change.)
So always ask for more information. If someone is visibly resisting change, ask them what’s going on. Ask them to be specific, what’s stopping them from moving on? Resistance can hinder change or turn it into an opportunity to thrive. Communication, involvement and empathy will go a long way to help your team members move on.
(For more on leading people through change, visit www.leadershipthroughchange.com)