We have all experienced resistance in some shape or form in our daily lives. You’ve also likely experienced resistance to change within your organization. People, by nature, can be hesitant about any change to the status quo, especially when it threatens productivity or isn’t clearly communicated. It’s important to cognize that change occurs not only at the organizational level but at the individual level as well. With any large-scale change initiative, resistance to change should be expected. There are numerous reasons employees resist change; identifying the types of resistance and building a strategy to manage resistance can increase employee adoption and acceptance of the new tool or software.
What is Change Resistance?
Resistance occurs when a fear of the unknown exists. When employees are unsure if a new process or solution will benefit them, they are more likely to resist the change, reverting to old methods and refusing to adopt the new processes. As a result, organizations will experience barriers to project success, including potentially increasing project costs, delayed benefits realization, or abandonment of the solution. Whatever the cause for the change, organizations must get employees to adopt and utilize the new system quickly to achieve the desired return on investment (ROI). Change management aims to prepare, equip, and support employees through change by minimizing disruptions to the business.
Initial reasons provided by employees for change resistance are not often visible on the surface. The change may uncover a lack of skills or covert practices that have gone undetected, and managers aren’t willing to admit. As a change manager, engaging with stakeholders and conducting interviews are critical to building trust and discovering the underlying issues causing the resistance.
Some common causes for resistance to change include:
- Loss of autonomy: Employees fear that they will not be able to understand the solution; they feel their competence is threatened, or they’re concerned with the change threatening their self-image.
- Lack of trust in management: If past changes were not perceived positively, employees might lack confidence in leadership and question if the firm is making the right decision.
- Excessive uncertainty: Employees don’t understand why the change is necessary. They can’t understand what is lacking in their current system/processes nor articulate the business benefits.
- Change fatigue: Employees feel they don’t have the time to commit to a large initiative; they may feel overworked and stressed about the extra effort required to adjust to the change.
The primary reasons employees resist change may not be independent; employees may resist change for several of the above reasons simultaneously. Moreover, resistance is unique to each employee, and their reasoning could differ across the organization or even within their department. Applying effective change management strategies is critical for organizations looking to avoid disruptions to productivity or efficiency that can stem from resistance.
Change Management Strategies to Overcome Resistance
There are several considerations for building a strategy to manage resistance. Consider the expected level of change and what resistance could be anticipated from this type of change. Who are the people impacted by the change, and are they educated and prepared for it? Do employees understand how the change impacts them, and can they articulate the WIIFM (what’s in it for me)? Do employees know what resources are available to support and sustain the change?
Consider these strategies to mitigate resistance and increase employee adoption:
- Clearly articulate the vision and benefits. Be open, honest, and genuine about what changes and challenges employees can expect. Communicate the shared vision and strategic intent for the change. Convey the WIIFM so employees understand why the change is occurring, the time commitment, and how the system will improve their job.
- Have a plan and be flexible. Without a robust change management strategy and communications strategy, you’ll struggle to get employees on board with the new solution. Thinking through a strategy that provides flexibility when things don’t go as planned is critical for a successful transition from the current state to the future state.
- Be active and visible. Executive leadership should make a concerted effort to be present and engaged with employees. Visible sponsorship of the change initiative builds employee trust and creates the sense of support employees seek.
- Provide a feedback loop. While some project decisions can’t be altered, organizations must listen to employees’ concerns. Surveys, stakeholder interviews, and focus groups can provide invaluable insight into employee hesitation and resistance.
- Celebrate the milestones. Look for quick wins and celebrate project milestones with employees, whether big or small, to demonstrate commitment and sustain momentum.
The success or failure of any change comes down to the people. Are they prepared? Are they engaged? Are they supported? At Clarkston Consulting, our team has experience helping companies navigate change within organizations to mitigate resistance and ensure continued success.
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Contributions from Clarence Thomas