Dealing with resistance to change

Version 5

    Happy Wednesday all.

    Today’s topic is all about our old friend resistance and how to deal with it. Dealing with resistance is a part of all of our lives - both personal and professional and likely something we have do do many times a day in different guises.

    Resistance to change typically isn’t due to people being afraid of new things, more that they are afraid of losing something related to the current / existing / previous state. The three main things people are afraid of losing tend to be competence, relationships or security.

    In the workplace many of us build our personal brand around being an expert on a particular subject - or being an expert with a specific tool. When that tool or subject is taken away from us - we resist that change because we fear loss of competence, and fear that we’ll no longer been seen as an expert.

    There are two broad types of resistance - covert (hidden from management or not openly shared) and overt (openly shared). Although it may seem harder to deal with overt resistance because it might involve hearing things that you don’t want to hear or dealing with angry people - it is actually better in the long run for your project. This is because you’ll at least get insight into what peoples fears are, therefore giving you an opportunity to deal with them. If the project team never hear about people’s concerns, it is very hard to help people overcome them. Covert resistance can involve rumours being spread or even project sabotage. This is one of the reasons that we always suggest that there is a feedback channel available to all employees throughout the change project as well as collecting feedback from employees at various stages post deployment - allowing employees a safe forum for sharing concerns and giving the project team insight into what they might need to focus future change management efforts on.

    There is no one single way to deal with resistance, although being empathetic and a good listener is always essential. But before identifying a solution, first you must uncover what the underlying reasons are for that resistance. I use the following approach to try and identify what is causing the resistance which in turn will help me establish what the right action plan might be:

    1. Is the individual aware of why the decision to change has been made? Do they understand the risks involved if the organisation didn't change? Do they understand how the benefits of the new ways of working will help the organisation or team meet it’s goals or vision?
      • If people don’t understand this, it indicates that a good enough job wasn’t done by the project team and executives when they were communicating to employees about the project and it’s values and importance to the organisation.
    2. Does the individual have desire for the project to be successful? Do they understand what is in it for them personally? Do they understand what the impacts might be to them personally if this change isn't successful?
      • Only when you can demonstrate to someone what the benefits are to them personally are they likely to really desire success of the project (this comes back to us . This is where running transformation labs for groups can come in handy. You could also survey users or run focus groups to identify the challenges that people are dealing with day to day in their role - then look for ways that the technology can be used to help solve those challenges.
    3. Does the individual have the knowledge and skills to be successful in the new world? Have they been given enough training so they feel safe using the new technology? Are they able to get on and do their jobs without being influenced negatively by the new technology?
      • This simply comes down to how well have people been trained with using the new tools. In order for people to maintain their personal sense of competence they’ll need to feel confident using new technology.
    4. Have reinforcements been put in place to encourage the right behaviours and discourage behaviours that might damage the success of the change program?
      • This is where working with the HR department within an organisation is so important. Getting the right behaviours and attributes to support the project into performance management systems will encourage people to work to support the change. Likewise if people who are obviously not living and breathing the new behaviours (e.g. sharing / collaboration) but instead operating in an individual ‘hero’ fashion are being seen to be promoted or given leadership roles - others will likely follow their lead and not embrace the new behaviours. If the organisation is looking to instil new cultural values - it is important that both hiring and firing is done with the new desired cultural values and behaviours in mind.

    For a change project to be successful - people need to be on board with each of those four elements listed above. They need to understand why the change is important, they need to want it to be a success, they need to have the skills to operate in the new world and the right rewards and recognition program needs to be in place to inspire them to embed new ways of working into business as usual.

    I hope the above technique might help you with dealing with resistance and identifying how best to overcome it. I’d love to hear any stories you can share about ways you've dealt with resistance, additionally if you do get an opportunity to try some elements of the above please share the results with the group!