How to Overcome
Resistance to Change
How to Overcome
Resistance to Change
Published: 21st August, 2023 | Updated: 21st August, 2023
Change is inevitable, especially in the fast-paced world of work. The change process fuels innovation and enables your organisation to seek better opportunities. Without change, it’s about time you lose your competitive edge.
However, adapting to change can be challenging, and resistance is a natural human response. It’s not just about being stubborn or resistant to new ideas. Often, employees resist change because they fear the unknown. They might worry about how the change will affect their job security, their role, or their ability to perform tasks.
So how can change leaders help their employees embrace change rather than resist it?
What Are Organisational Changes?
In order to effectively bring about change at work, having a clear understanding of the types of organisational change can aid you in developing change management strategies. For example, if it’s a transformational change, you need a structured approach and systematic implementation. But if it’s a technological change, you may need to provide employee training sessions.
No matter how or why you initiate change, it’s your responsibility as a leader to consider how it will affect your employees and the entire organisation.
And this is where change leadership comes into play.
Change leadership goes beyond just understanding the types of organisational changes. It delves into the art and science of guiding an organisation and its members through the tumultuous waters of transformation.
Change leaders don’t just deploy change; they inspire, motivate, and lead their teams through it. They recognise that resistance is a natural human reaction, especially when faced with the unknown or the unfamiliar.
The Psychological Aspect of Resistance
Humans are creatures of habit. We find comfort in routine and predictability.
Do you remember how nervous you were on your first day at a new job?
Can you recall how big of a deal it was moving from WhatsApp to Microsoft Teams?
When change disrupts this routine, it can lead to feelings of uncertainty and anxiety.
Research shows it’s crucial to shape employees’ attitudes towards change in order to implement change initiatives successfully. This emphasises the value of effective change management, especially in how you manage employee resistance.
A recent study identified psychological factors affecting individual resistance against organisational change, including job security, emotional distress, and individual identity within the organisation.
These factors threaten the status quo, which employees are currently a part of, and can negatively impact their confidence level, especially in their organisational position. It becomes a fight-or-flight scenario for them, which is also why employee resistance to change is common.
As change leaders understand where resistance stems from, they can lead and manage change as well as provide ongoing support for employees during times of change.
Successful organisational change requires the participation and support of employees. The more your employees understand the purpose and process of change implementation, the more they engage and embrace change.
7 Strategies to Help Your Team Overcome Resistance to Change
1. Practice Emotional Intelligence in Leadership
While leadership styles and their effectiveness can vary across different organisations, emotional intelligence is a common trait shared by all great leaders. Emotional Intelligence (EI) refers to the ability to recognise, understand, and manage our own emotions while also recognising, understanding, and influencing the emotions of others. In the context of leadership during times of change, EI is paramount.
Leaders with high emotional intelligence can anticipate employee resistance by reading the emotional cues of their team. They can discern between genuine concerns about a change and general anxiety or fear of the unknown. By addressing these concerns empathetically, leaders can build trust and rapport with their team.
For instance, if a department is anxious about a new software implementation, a leader with high emotional intelligence would not just dismiss these fears or provide logical reasons for the change. Instead, they might share their own experiences with change, acknowledge the challenges, and assure the team of the support they will receive. This approach humanises the leader, making them more approachable and creating an environment where employee concerns can be openly discussed and addressed.
2. Listen to Your Employees
Active listening goes beyond just hearing words; it’s about understanding the underlying emotions and concerns. When employees feel heard, they feel valued, leading to increased trust and openness to change.
During times of organisational change, uncertainties can breed misconceptions. By providing platforms like feedback sessions, town hall meetings, or even anonymous suggestion boxes, leaders can gather valuable insights directly from those affected by the change.
For example, if a team is worried about job security due to automation, addressing this concern directly can alleviate fears. Leaders can clarify the purpose of automation, emphasising its role in eliminating mundane tasks rather than jobs. By addressing concerns head-on, leaders can preemptively tackle and overcome resistance, ensuring smoother transitions.
3. Maximise Your Team’s Capabilities
Every individual brings a unique set of skills and strengths to a team. Recognising and leveraging these strengths during times of change can be a game-changer.
Employees who feel their skills are being utilised effectively are more likely to view the change positively. For instance, if a company is shifting its marketing strategy to a more digital-focused approach, identifying team members who excel in areas like digital analytics, content creation, or social media management can be beneficial.
By assigning roles that align with individual strengths, leaders not only ensure the success of the change initiative but also boost team morale. Employees feel valued and integral to the change, overcoming resistance and fostering a sense of ownership.
4. Make Your Goals Realistic and Achievable
While ambitious goals can be motivating, they can also be daunting, especially when coupled with significant changes. By breaking down larger objectives into smaller, more manageable milestones, leaders can create a roadmap for success.
This approach allows teams to celebrate smaller victories along the journey, building confidence and momentum. For example, if a company’s ultimate goal is to increase sales by 20% over a year, setting a target of a 5% increase in the first quarter feels more achievable. As these smaller targets are met, they serve as stepping stones, gradually leading the team towards the larger goal. This strategy also allows for adjustments along the way, ensuring the change process remains agile and responsive.
You can also anchor personal development and implement change to make it a personally-driven journey for individual employees.
5. Get Excited About the Change
Enthusiasm is contagious. When leaders approach change with genuine excitement and passion, it resonates with the team. This strategy is about more than just presenting the logical benefits of a change; it’s about inspiring and motivating the team to envision the positive possibilities that lie ahead.
By sharing success stories, highlighting potential benefits, and being the foremost advocate for the change, leaders can create a positive narrative around the transition.
When employees see this level of commitment and passion from leadership, they are more likely to adopt a similar mindset, viewing the change as an exciting opportunity rather than a daunting challenge.
6. Educate Your Employees
Knowledge is power. One of the primary reasons employees resist change is the fear of the unknown. By providing comprehensive education and training, leaders can dispel myths and equip their teams with the tools they need to succeed.
If a company is transitioning to a new digital platform, offering detailed training sessions ensures that every team member feels confident in using the new system. Beyond just technical training, it’s essential to communicate the reasons behind the change, its benefits, and the broader vision for the future.
Not only are informed employees more likely to support the change, but they can also become advocates, helping onboard their peers.
7. Provide Ongoing Support
Change is not a one-time event but a continuous journey. Even after the initial implementation, it’s crucial to offer ongoing support. This can take the form of additional training sessions, resources, mentorship programs, or regular check-ins.
For instance, after rolling out a new software system, holding monthly feedback sessions can address any challenges users face. This ongoing support reinforces the idea that leadership is genuinely invested in the team’s success. It also provides opportunities for continuous improvement, ensuring that the change process remains dynamic and responsive to the team’s needs.
Overcoming Resistance to Change
Implementing organisational change requires a delicate balance between showing commitment to your employees’ needs and prioritising organisational growth. Leaders can effectively navigate the complexities of change, ensuring that their teams are not just receptive but also enthusiastic participants in the journey.
ChangingPoint offers a unique Universal Change Leadership Programme, leveraging the latest thinking from behavioural science to help leaders engage, align, and inspire their people through organisational change.
Written by Jayne Ruff
Jayne Ruff, Occupational Psychologist & Managing Director at Changing Point. To find out more about how Changing Point can help you align minds to transform your business, get in touch.
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