4 Tips to Manage Resistance to Change

You’ve recently become aware your employees are showing signs of resistance. They’re avoiding work, less productive, communicating poorly, having trouble making decisions, and you’re noticing an overall sense of low morale. Many leaders think the easiest ways to handle resistance is to land on either side of the scale: fire the resistors or ignore them altogether. Both options are not ideal. By choosing to get rid of resistors, you’ll create a vacuum in your bottom line as the rehire and training processes are both time intensive and expensive. Ignoring resistors altogether isn’t a great option either because resistance will fester throughout the organization. Think of resistance as a symptom of illness in your organization. Regardless of who the hosts are, the illness will still exist if it isn’t accurately diagnosed and properly treated. When your team is resisting change, collaboration dynamics, performance expectations, or constructive feedback, they’re displaying symptoms of the illness. Just like an illness, you must fully examine your organization to uncover the underlying root cause of the symptoms. 

Generally, causes include:

  • Not having appropriate tools or training
  • Fear of the unknown, including failure or loss of job status
  • Misaligned reward or reinforcement systems
  • Organizational mistrust
  • Peer pressure

The long-term success of your organization depends on smooth operations, innovation, and an engaged work community. Resistance will quickly tear down these inner workings of your business that allow it to thrive. However, you can intervene and stop resistance in its tracks if you’re prepared and proactive. The following suggestions may help you get started. Here are four tips to keep in mind when approaching resistance within your business.

1. Identify areas of resistance and underlying reasons.

There are many ways you can dive into what the root causes of resistance are. Start by being an active listener and a champion of your employees. When you become more approachable and open to discussing what matters to them, you will gain key insights as to how your employees are feeling. By asking questions, listening to your employees, and remaining available, you will set yourself up as a trustworthy advocate who can make change.

Some leaders also utilize other ways of gathering feedback from a variety of groups, all employees, or even a selection of employees through methods such as surveys, interviews, or focus groups. These options are great if you run a larger organization or are attempting to pinpoint where resistance lies within the scope of a specific project or event. When implementing major changes within your company, you will need to ensure your people understand why the change is happening and what’s in it for them. Additionally, be sure to assess how ready they are for the change in terms of training and logistical deployment of the change and have a plan for reinforcing the adoption of the change post implementation. Pinpointing resistance in this process may be deeper than surface level, but crucial for the success of overall change adoption. For instance, you may have undergone a vast change throughout your organization like the implementation of a new software system and you’re now getting the sense teams are resisting. Although you’ve heard rumors and notice changes in their attitudes about the new technology, you aren’t sure if your teams are resistant because they’re uncomfortable with their knowledge around how to utilize the software and need further training, or because they don’t understand the reason for the change in the first place. In these instances, a survey or interview of your employees may be the most efficient way to collect the data you need. However, we do caution, regardless of your inquiry method, once you begin to get a pulse on what the problems are, you must act. If you choose to ignore what you discover, you will do more harm than good.

2. Repair resistance through purpose and enterprise-first mindset.

Imagine a toothache. What does that toothache do to your overall health and well-being? It can make you miserable! One tooth can have so much impact on your entire body. Apply this concept of what should be a minute problem and the profound toll it takes on your body to that of resistance within your organization. Resistance is like the toothache. Although it may seem small, the problem eventually becomes so painful, you’ll need major work to repair it. Your business works as your body does: if one part has a problem, the entire company does. By examining the issue and refocusing the mindsets of your employees to look at your mission, vision, and values, and how they fit into the bigger picture, you will realign the purpose of the work they do with the outcomes of the organization. Caring about the overall success of the business ahead of personal needs is a true indication of an enterprise-first mindset. Feeling valued and purposeful makes people feel connected to their work, more accepting of change and the reasons for change, and more likely to collaborate effectively and efficiently. Once resistors have encompassed the enterprise-first mindset, they will be far less likely to have a negative impact overall.

3. Provide the tools and knowledge needed to be successful.

Once your employees feel connected to the mission, vision, and values of the company, they will need the right tools and resources to successfully execute. Tools and resources can include many kinds of systems, processes, and instruments. None of these tools or resources should contradict what you’re hoping your people achieve. For example, let’s say you’re the CEO of a bank and you are implementing a new customer account software that is supposed to make opening an account more convenient for members and employees. Even though the software is new and improved, the processes for opening a new account have not changed and the integration of the software is clunky for both users and employees. Employees are frustrated because they don’t know how to implement the new system with old processes and potential customers are frustrated because they don’t see a convenient way to open an account. A disconnect like this will likely cause your employees to resist change and impact their level of customer service. If you want your employees to champion change, ensure that they are adequately trained and that the systems, processes, and tools align with the result you want to see. Your systems and support should be seamless from start to finish if your employees are to champion these goals.

4. Stay the course.

Reflect, revisit, and reinforce your values. Do you already have answers in how to approach resistance? Lean on them. At Transcend, our value of agility reminds us to remain grounded and accepting during times of change or adjustment. We live and champion this value throughout our organization. In one of our first blog articles, “The Role of Passions in CEO Evolution Part Two,” we interviewed a CEO and pilot, Michael Gottdenker. In the article, Michael describes the lessons he’s learned as a pilot and how those lessons translate to how he operates within his company as the Chief Executive. One of the lessons centers around the pilot concept of “just fly the plane.” As a pilot, nothing becomes more important than keeping the plane in the air. When conditions are bad, pilots must remain calm and focused on using the instruments in front of them to fly the plane first before focusing on anything else. Likewise, think of your mission, vision, and values embedded in your business’s strategy as the instrument you’ll use during times of resistance. Remain calm, rely on what you know, and stay the course.

All businesses encounter resistance at one time or another. As a leader, your reactions to it will define the outcomes resistance has on your business. Before you subject your bottom line to the cost of hiring new employees or ignoring resistors, make sure you understand the root causes of resistance first and utilize your strategy in making changes. The long-term success of your organization depends on an engaged community of workers executing the vision and creating the next level of innovation and it may be time to act. If you’d like to get started today in assessing your organization’s health, visit www.transcendbusiness.com or email us at contact@transcendbusiness.com.

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