Recently my little brother resumed his desk-thumping exam revision routine, “I don’t care if I fail,” he muttered defiantly. I offered him words of encouragement about the impending break from school, with no luck. Over time I realized I’ve been hitting my head against a brick wall. How do you manage someone’s response to change when they feel sceptical, overwhelmed and lacking in competence?
Simply trying to counteract the situation with a “silver lining” doesn’t help because people don’t want your solutions, they want you to listen and have their thoughts acknowledged.
You may have experienced similar emotions during times of organizational change; here the feelings run deeper than the surface. Many employees dread losing their quality of life and fear hidden agendas, which can result in a stubborn resistance to change – even more stubborn than a teenager.
Approaching the factor of resistance is nothing new, but now it is more prevalent than ever. Technological advances and economic uncertainty are forcing businesses to get creative with structure and make uncharacteristic decisions.
And resistance is not always against big moves; have you been made to adapt to newer versions of, already decent, word processors? Or reluctantly change desks? No matter how big or small, resistance will play a part in all of your business transformations.
So change is inevitable, but there’s a recurring trend of failed change programs and companies that spend years of time and money on change without achieving their goals. All of them have been critically affected by resistance.
Therefore, the key to success may be in how you interpret and deal with resisting attitudes. Once you’re able to do that, change is like the key pad of your upgraded mobile phone, it might be hard to get to grips with at first but it becomes easier to use and more productive.
Working with resistance
Everyone needs to learn to have a proactive attitude towards resistance. You must work to redefine people’s expectations and comfort zones so that they are prepared and protected from any unkind surprises. To do this, first you can follow 4 basic steps.
- Attention. Actively inquire about the feelings and responses of everyone who is affected by the proposed changes. If you do not seek out the people’s reactions then resistance can bubble beneath the surface and become more detrimental in the future.
- Listen. They want to be acknowledged. Don’t instantly offer detailed counteracting solutions – people are not interested. Attending to their concerns makes the employee feel they are of real value to the process.
- Engagement. Commence dialogue about the change after fully understanding the concerns of the people involved. This is also the most important point, because here’s where you can use a depth of information to explain the business need for change, and convince others that the benefits outweigh their perceived problems.One of the biggest causes of failure in change programs is facilitators not providing enough information to the people affected. Have a measured and planned approach to meet people’s expectations.
- Participation. Involve everyone who is responsible for implementing the change, and those affected by it. Resistance to change can evolve from one catalyst – the person you have not invited for discussions, for instance. This can be time consuming, but the value of having a supervisor, or even CEO, talking to a wide range of employees about the business need for change is great.
Taking the time to make everyone feel valued will make life easier. Many businesses achieve success by becoming more open with all employees, simply by inviting a wider range of employees to meetings, closing the gap between the “shop floor” and management. If everyone feels they are getting the full picture and are trusted as a full participant during planning and implementation, then they will be motivated during the change.
A common factor throughout successful change management is the emphasis on the employee. Many businesses lose sight of their employees to maintain a focus on profits and performance, which results in a loss of momentum due to resistance. The key to a successful change is adjusting your communications to provide employees with the knowledge and understanding to withstand change.