By: Lauren Dellarocco
With the invaluable asset of human capital comes the skills, practices, and techniques necessary to manage this asset. Although artificial intelligence is becoming increasingly prevalent in today’s digitally-advanced society and organizational changes are constantly underway to adopt new technologies, every company still possesses human capital to some degree.
Successful leaders and managers understand that human capital is a company’s greatest asset, yet one of the most challenging assets to manage. People are free-thinkers, driven by emotion, motivation, preference, encouragement—and stability. People resist change. We have an innate fear of the unknown, so we seek stability, routine, and the comfort of the status quo.
Resistance to change is a fact of life, which can be a challenge to manage in the business world that never stops changing. The managers and team members responsible for leading organizational changes can attest to the challenges in overcoming resistance to change.
Organizational changes affect every team member in a company, from the management team to the frontline staff members—which means there’s a lot of room for potential resistance.
To mitigate employee resistance throughout an organizational change process, effective change management practice must be employed. The change management process sets the guideline for implementing, managing, and evaluating change efforts. It also includes the critical step of anticipating and reducing pushback by assuaging employees’ fears, frustrations, and hesitations.
What steps can managers and leaders take to overcome resistance to change? How can management teams successfully implement change and ensure buy-in from team members while minimizing employee resistance?
To better understand the different techniques that enable managers to overcome resistance to change, we need to understand the source of employee resistance.
What Causes Employee Resistance in Change Management?
According to Psychology Spot, people’s resistance to change stems from their unique personality traits, life experiences, and current circumstances. The influences that cause people to pushback and resist change are actually quite personal.
Change managers and leaders have to understand that these seemingly-invisible, external factors are at play when addressing employee resistance. They have to treat their employees like people—emotional, fearful, stability-seeking people who favor the status quo.
One of the first steps in the change management process is dedicated to communicating the urgency and necessity for change to all team members. Senior managers and leaders are responsible for initiating open communication with team members, to explain why the change is necessary and how the change is expected to impact each team member’s role.
If employees don’t understand the urgency for the change or the reasons driving the change initiative, they’re more likely to resist changes and less likely to embrace changes. Employees also want to feel that their role contributes to the bigger picture. Change management leaders must communicate to employees that each of their roles is integral to a successful change process.
Fear of Exiting the Comfort Zone
Before the organizational change was initiated, team members were comfortable with their processes and procedures. They mastered their strategies, and they knew the ins-and-outs of the software and programs in place.
When managers announce the impending organizational change, team members may feel powerless. They feel as if these changes are happening to them, and they’re hesitant to step out of their comfort zone and learn new skills. This is only natural. People want to have control over the changes affecting them—even if it just means voicing their feedback or concerns.
No Perceived Benefit or Reward
Employees may resist change if they don’t see a reward or benefit at the end of the tunnel. Team members already feel overwhelmed by the change initiatives, and on top of that, they don’t perceive any benefit from undergoing this overwhelming experience. This lack of incentive can drastically decrease employee motivation.
There’s always a beneficial reason behind change initiatives. Leaders initiate a taxing and costly transformation without deliberate, data-driven reason. The change will undoubtedly improve some facet of the business. If team members don’t anticipate any benefit from the change, it’s likely that they haven’t received clear communication from management.
Organizational changes can completely transform the way each team member operates. Employees may gain new roles and responsibilities, and they may be reassigned to a new team, reporting manager, or supervisor. The changes may force employees to adopt new strategies, tools, or methods of communications. These are all impactful changes, and they can be a lot for employees to take in if they’re not implemented effectively.
When change management leaders focus their efforts on overcoming resistance to change, they’re required to listen to employees, understand employees’ hesitations, and facilitate open communication to address their concerns.
5 Best Practices to Overcome Resistance to Change
To execute effective change management with minimal resistance, leaders should establish precautionary measures before initiating change. It’s best to establish these practices before the change is underway, because employees can be your greatest change supporters if they’re on-board with the initiative and engaged in the process.
1. Facilitate effective communication.
The importance of effective communication in the workplace cannot be stressed enough. Before change efforts are in motion, management must explain the reasons, implications, and expected outcomes of the change.
If management doesn’t communicate to team members why the change initiative is urgent, how are fellow leaders and team members supposed to share the same understanding? If employees don’t know what to expect after the change is implemented, how can they share the same vision?
Employees want to feel like a part of the change process, which means management needs to commit to thorough communication every step of the way. Communicate expectations to employees to create accountability and encourage engagement. Consider implementing a streamlined, intuitive communication journey that simplifies the messaging behind change initiatives and supports productive communication.
2. Lead by example.
Imagine you’re an employee facing an organizational change that’s going to revolutionize the business operations you’ve practiced for the past few years. You’re already uneasy about undergoing this massive change, and now you notice your manager is unenthusiastic and unengaged with the change process. How can you feel excited about the upcoming changes if your manager is evidently resistant?
The management team needs to lead by example when working to overcome resistance. Modeling resistance will only reinforce other employees’ resistance too. Communicate with eagerness, excitement, and positivity when speaking about the future. Enthusiasm is contagious, but so is indifference. Stay conscious of your words and body language. It’s critical to embody the exemplary attitude that you want to see in your employees.
3. Implement change in steps or phases.
The organizational change management process exists for this reason. If changes are initiated all at once without planned intervals, employees are likely to feel overwhelmed, unmotivated and resistant.
Allow team members the necessary time to complete their tasks in each step of the change management process, with allotted intermissions that grant team members the chance to breathe and assess their efforts. Be mindful that employees are learning new skills, new jobs, or new technologies.
Implementing change management practices will increase productivity and create realistic expectations for employees. A Prosci study determined that “projects with excellent change management were 6 times more likely to meet objectives than those with poor change management.” Careful timing is an essential part of an effective change management process with minimal resistance.
4. Delegate action and inspire engagement.
Organizational changes cannot be implemented by management alone. Change efforts fall in the hands of all leaders and employees within the company. The number of employees or non-management team members typically exceeds the number of managers in a company, so it’s imperative to have employees buy-in and take action. Employees will be the ones putting the new changes into practice, so engage their efforts early on in the process.
To inspire employee engagement, delegate roles and responsibilities to influential team members. Team members who possess natural leadership skills will take action, which will encourage other team members to follow suit.
5. Make employee-focused decisions.
Employee satisfaction should be at the forefront of change managers’ minds throughout the change implementation process. These team members are directly affected by the changes, and if they’re not happy, things can turn chaotic.
If employees are dissatisfied with the change process, change implementation can become progressively challenging. Managers need to prioritize the employee experience to gain the team’s support.
The focus in change management should be on improving employees’ operations, experiences, and overall efficiency. When employees are happy and engaged, their productivity levels are high. And when employee engagement and productivity are high, the customer is more likely to have a positive experience.
Successful change management begins and ends with employees. Employees are on the frontline, interacting with consumers, and they’re putting the new organizational changes into practice. Employee resistance can make or break change implementation.
For managers to successfully overcome resistance to change, they need to prioritize employees, listen to their concerns, and take their feedback into genuine consideration. Through implementation of a core values communication software, managers can encourage employees to engage with tasks and contribute toward fostering a positive work environment.Leaders who operate with mindfulness and consideration for their employees are equipped to implement successful transformations and overcome resistance to change.