It’s easy to get excited about making changes in an organization when you’re the force behind the change, but everyone else may not share your enthusiasm. Let’s say you’re eager to move all customer relations into Oracle CRM. You’ve been working on this project in the background for a while, so you are ready to get started, but you’re getting resistance from all sides. Some people are digging in their heels and refusing to adopt the new system. Others are frustrated and confused by the software but are afraid to speak up. Meanwhile, morale is low, and tensions are high. If the situation is mishandled, the transition to Oracle CRM is bound to fail. While resistance is inevitable, it’s not insurmountable. To overcome it, you must understand the reasons behind the resistance to change and work with your team to get past them.
When employees do not trust or feel confident in the person making the change, their resistance to it can be a huge barrier. In fact, change advisor and author Rick Maurer believes that lack of confidence in change-makers is a cause of resistance to change in organizations that is most often overlooked.
Maurer’s 3 Levels of Resistance are: I don’t get it, I don’t like it, and I don’t like you. That’s right — people may not resist the change itself but rather the person making it. Of course, “you” does not always refer to the change-maker specifically. It could also be someone the change-maker represents, such as corporate headquarters or a faceless CEO.
To avoid this level of resistance, choose change leaders that people already trust. Employees are more likely to have confidence in a change leader who understands their daily routines and job duties, such as a direct supervisor. However, trust is easy to lose, so if change leaders have mishandled organizational changes in the past, they need to own up to those mistakes. Once trust is re-earned, change leaders can proceed with empathy and understanding as they guide their team through the transition.
“Be the change you wish to see in the world,” or, in this case, be the change you wish to see in your organization. When you lead by example, employees will feel more comfortable with the transition because they will see you as a trusted resource who is available to provide support and guidance.
Changing the status quo is difficult, and many people will have emotional reactions to anything that upsets their routine. This is a natural and inevitable response. Brushing it off will only lead to stronger resistance.
Use change management models that focus on emotional reactions to change, such as the Kübler-Ross Change Curve or Bridges Transition Model, to mitigate this common cause of resistance. Both models recognize that change sometimes leads to feelings of loss and grief. As such, change-makers must be prepared to manage these emotions and move people towards acceptance of the change.
Begin by coaching change leaders to approach resistance to change with empathy, recognizing that people will have a wide range of emotional reactions. Some may even skip steps in the Kübler-Ross Change Curve or slide back to negative reactions multiple times throughout the transition.
In order to manage these reactions, change leaders should clearly explain the need for change while also listening attentively to feedback from those affected by it. People want to feel heard. Make it clear that their opinions are valuable to the change process. Additionally, change leaders should check in frequently to provide support, gather additional feedback, and nudge people towards change acceptance and adoption.
People will not support a change if they’re not confident in their own abilities to adapt to it. When people feel threatened by their own shortcomings (real or imagined), they protect themselves from failure by resisting the change.
The ADKAR Model has two goals that address the fear of failure: knowledge and ability.
Knowledge is about training. The goal is to give people the tools they need to make the change, including the tools they’ll need to handle the transitions throughout the process. Let’s take a technological change as an example. If your company is integrating a new software system, employees should know how to move existing information into it, as well as how to make the most of the new system in the future.
Ability is more about self-confidence. After training, people need to feel comfortable applying the knowledge they have acquired. Give employees enough hands-on experience to develop and test their new skills before fully launching the change.
The key to great change management communication is to create an active conversation. When you talk at people as opposed to with people, you’re bound to get resistance to change.
Start by making a change communication plan. Before you initiate change, you should have several communication actions planned, such as the announcement of the change, small group discussions, one-on-one meetings, and methods for gathering feedback.
When talking with employees about change, answer the questions, “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM) and “What does it mean to me?” (WDIMTM). When you appeal to individual concerns, you increase their engagement. People want to know how the change will benefit them specifically and what they will need to do to implement and solidify the change.
Furthermore, providing continuous motivation throughout the change process is essential. In fact, Kotter’s Theory highlights the importance of focusing on short-term wins in step six of the eight-step change process. When employees are recognized for their efforts, it builds their enthusiasm as well as their desire to support the change.
Find a balance between creating a sense of urgency for the change and allowing time for employees and processes to transition. Don’t force change too quickly. When you push too hard for a change to happen, it’s easy to get tunnel vision and neglect important elements of your change plan.
Begin with a change implementation timeline. Map out every action and set deadlines so that you have a general idea of how long the entire transformation will take. Often, designing the path between the current state and change adoption helps you identify additional steps that are needed to facilitate the transition.
Of course, you should not be afraid to make adjustments. If your team needs more time to understand the change or would benefit from additional training — make it happen.
Anticipating and planning for resistance is an essential aspect of implementing organizational change. When you dig into the reasons behind the resistance to change, you are better prepared to address it and move past it, regardless of which type of organizational change you undergo within your company.
Lastly, be sure to gather support for your change through change leaders, training tools, and employee engagement. Contact Whatfix to talk to us about how we can design solutions that help in overcoming resistance to change through detailed guidance, faster onboarding, and ongoing support.
If you’re looking to build on your change management skills, we’ve compiled a list of the best certification programs to opt for to attain an attestation of being an expert in the field.