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Addressing Resistance to Change

Filed in Blog by Tracey Davison on 810 - 0 Comments

Resistance to change - Leadership Blog

Change is necessary.  Without it we cannot develop and grow, but people are naturally resistant to change and perhaps this is why research done by the CIPD found that the majority of change initiatives (60%) fail to meet their stated objectives.  However, there are things you can do to ensure people are engaged in the change process and significantly increase the effectiveness of the change strategy.

Below we identify some of the most common examples of resistance to change and suggest what can be done to address these and get people on board.

Fear.  Fear is a perfectly natural reaction to change.  Our brains are wired to look for patterns, predictability and safety – change goes against all this.  You need to understand the emotive reasons for the fear.  Change has real implications for individuals, this could be just the time and effort required to learn new skills/processes, or may be more threatening, perhaps calling into question their job security.  You must acknowledge and address these fears and be very clear about the consequences of not changing, people will naturally move towards the option which provides the ‘safest’ solution.

Fear also stems from a perceived lack of control, so ensure your people are involved in the change process from the outset, it will way-lay fears and aid buy-in.

Misunderstanding.  A failure to communicate your goals and reasons for change may well lead to misunderstanding.  If people are not clear on why change is necessary, you can never expect them to get on board with it.  You need to very clearly communicate the new goals for the team and organisation, why the change is required, what the consequences will be if you don’t change and what the advantages will be once the change is implemented.  Encourage questions, they will heighten understanding and ensure that your people feel valued and an essential part of the change.

Negativity/Disengagement.  Disengaged or pervasively negative individuals will not be receptive to change.  This can make change all the more difficult, since the reasons for it are often driven by a need to heighten engagement.  For these people, change will be viewed merely as an inconvenience.  Be careful not to fuel these people’s fire by failing to give them the opportunities to feedback and get involved in the development stages.  (For more information on dealing specifically with negativity, see our whitepaper on Negativity in Teams: What to do with the Nay-sayers.)

Disagreement as to why change is necessary.  This is particularly common in teams and organisations who are performing well, it’s the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mindset.  Unfortunately this serves only to inhibit growth.  As the person responsible for driving change, it is absolutely critical that you are able to clearly communicate your vision and inspire others to go on the journey with you.  It might be worth reinforcing your message with some real-life examples.  Think about companies such as Blockbuster, HMV and Woolworths, who carried on doing just what they’d always done, but who eventually got left behind their more innovative, forward-thinking competitors.

Dissatisfied with the plans for change.  People often recognise the need for change and openly welcome it, but remain resistant because they question the ability to execute it.  A perceived lack of effective leadership, preparation and project management are key resistors to change and rightly so.  If the change process is not managed effectively, it will not work.  Bad change management causes unnecessary disruption, is costly and builds resistance to change; making any future change strategy even more difficult.  If this is a significant factor for resistance to change in your team/organisation, then you need to re-assess your leadership structure and change management plan.

To combat resistance to change you need to start with the basics: there should be a culture in place that encourages change, growth and innovation.  Additionally, you should involve your people in the development stages of the change process (as far as possible) and, critically, deal effectively with specific concerns, as they arise.


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