Written by Catherine Adenle
I love change management but I hate bad change management and a bad management of change. In recent years, technological growth, the Information Age, changes in global economy and the business environment have forced organizations to change the way they do business. Whether we like it or not, change is here to stay. Any companies that will not make changes risk being left behind, forgotten, competitors driving them out of business or possible closure.
In companies, managers, and supervisors are the ones who have to implement the changes cascaded down to them by CEOs or Directors. However, the traditional skills possessed by most managers do not include that of being an effective Change Agent. In these rapidly changing times, a ‘change management’ skill is needed for managers more than ever before.
Unfortunately, employees anywhere will not all respond to change with joy and a punch into the air saying, “Brilliant, yet another organizational change, I’m very excited to be a part of it!” Given that change is here to stay, why do you think some people dig in their heels and resist it at all costs?
Well, Robert F. Kennedy once said, “About twenty percent of the people are against any change.” My findings, in the past support Kennedy’s theory. No matter how effective a leader you are, it is not uncommon to periodically find your change efforts being challenged, or even sabotaged. Admittedly, some people seem to come programmed with a basic distrust of any change and will work frantically to preserve “the way things used to be around here”. For this reason, organizational change does not come easy, so as many as two-thirds of organizational change management efforts fail.
Frankly, senior sponsors of change often blame its failure on employee and middle managers resistance to change. At times, this is true. However, more often, senior leaders and managers over-estimate how much change they can successfully handle in an organization with no trained change agents. Some also do not understand how difficult it is to lead and implement change effectively. Leading and implementing change requires a lot of people skills!
Expecting resistance to change and planning for it from the start of your change management programme will allow any organisation to effectively manage objections. Understanding the most common reasons people object to change gives managers the opportunity to plan the change strategy to address these factors. It’s not possible to be aware of all sources of resistance to change. However, expecting that there will be resistance to change and being prepared to manage it is a proactive step. Recognising behaviours that indicate possible resistance will raise awareness of the need to address the concerns.
See John Kotter on leading change in your organization
It is normal to resist change
Let’s face it; most people prefer predictability and stability in both their personal and professional lives. So, people typically avoid situations that upset the order of things, threaten their self-interests, increase stress, or involve risks. When faced with changes to the status quo, people usually resist initially. The resistance continues and, in some cases increases, until they are able to recognize the benefits of change and perceive the gains to be worth more than the risk or threats to their self-interests. I know that people resist change because of lack of communication – the what, why, when, how, who and the support needed for those affected. James O’Toole points out in his book, Leading Change that people resist change due to the fundamental human objection to having the will of others imposed upon them – this to me is true. At the end of the day, all sources of resistance to change need to be acknowledged and people’s emotions validated. It’s far better to anticipate objections than to spend your time putting out fires, and knowing how to overcome resistance to change is a vital part of any change management plan.
The resistance to organisational change is rarely irrational. Employees resist change efforts from a perspective that makes perfect sense to them.
In practice, there are 12 common reasons why people resist change in the workplace:
- Loss of Job: In an organizational setting, any process, technological advancement, systems, or product change will include streamlining, working smarter, cost reduction, efficiency, faster turn around times. All these means staff and managers will resist the changes that result in their roles being eliminated or reduced. From their perspective, your change is harmful to their position in the organization! The satisfaction that employees have with their job determines a portion of their reactions during times of change. Employees who experience a high degree of job satisfaction are better able to weather periods of change. They are more positive in their approach to their work and can see change as an organizational necessity. Unhappy employees, on the other hand, view change as just another annoyance in a long list of complaints. Chances are, whatever the change, any disgruntled employees will view it as having a negative impact on both the organization and them personally.
See Fear of Job Loss
- Bad Communication Strategy: The way in which the change process is communicated to employees within the organization is a critical factor in determining their reactions. If you can’t communicate what, why, how, when, who and what success will look like or how success is going to be measured, then, expect resistance! If employees do not understand the need for change, why ask for a buy in? Especially from those who strongly believe the current way of doing things works well…and has done for the past twenty-five years! When upper management plans and communicates early and effectively with all employees and explains the reasoning behind the change, employees are much more likely to buy into it. Changes that are mandated with little or no communication, on the other hand, are often poorly received, since employees may feel that the change is being shoved down their throats. When it comes to change management there’s no such thing as too much communication. If there is no immediate information to communicate during change, telling employees that there is no update regarding the ongoing change is communication! Don’t just keep quiet; this is also the time to maintain an open door policy regardless of where you are placed in the organisation. Be present and available for questioning. Miscommunication is if you communicate insignificant or insensitive information. You can’t communicate too much significant, substantial information.
See Effective Communication Tools
- Shock and Fear of the Unknown: Employees’ responses to organizational change can range from fear and panic to enthusiastic support. During periods of change, some employees may feel the need to cling to the past because it was a more secure, predictable time. If what they did in the past worked well for them, they may resist changing their behaviour out of fear that they will not achieve as much in the future. The less the organization knows about the change and its impact on them, the more fearful they become. Leading change also requires not springing surprises on people! The organisation needs to be prepared for the change. In the absence of continuing a two-way communication with leadership, grapevine rumours will fill the void and sabotage any change effort.
See the Challenge of Change- Fear of the Unknown or See Managing Change: Managing People’s Fear
- Loss of Control: Familiar routines help employees develop a sense of control over their work environment. Being asked to change the way they operate may make employees feel powerless and confused. People are more likely to understand and implement changes when they feel they have some form of control. Keeping the doors of communication open and soliciting input, support and help from employees lets them know that their contributions matter. Involve them, elicit their feedback, let them volunteer for participatory roles in the change and all of these in turn, will help give them a sense of control during periods of change.
See Fear of Losing Control
- Lack of Competence: This is a fear that is difficult for employees to admit openly. But sometimes, change in organizations necessitates changes in skills, and some people will feel that they won’t be able to make the transition well. Therefore, the only way for them to try and survive is to kick against the change. Some employees are just hesitant to try new routines, so they express an unwillingness to learn anything new. They say things like, “I already know all that I need to know to do the job,” or “I am good at what I do why rock the boat.” Resisting employees who have already made up their minds that the change won’t work or who are reluctant to learn something new will impede the organization’s growth and adaptation to change. Frankly, they also hinder their own personal growth and development.
- Poor Timing: Change must be introduced when there are no other major initiatives going on. Sometimes it is not what a leader does, but it is how, when and why she or he does it that creates resistance to change! Undue resistance can occur because changes are introduced in an insensitive manner or at an awkward time. For any significant organizational change effort to be effective, organizational leadership must come out of their mahogany panelled air conditioned offices, roll up their sleeves, and prepare a comprehensive change strategy from the onset to address barriers. If they can’t do it, then, they should delegate or hire a change management agent to design an effective change management strategy with the help of some of the organisations managers.
- Lack of Reward: There is a common business saying that managers get what they reward. Organizational employees will resist change when they do not see anything in it for them in terms of rewards. Without ‘WIIFM’ or a reward, there is no motivation to support the change over the long run. This often means that organizational reward systems must be altered to support the change that management wants to implement. The reward does not have to always be major or costly.
- Office Politics: Every organisation has its own share of in-house politics. So, some employees resist change as a political strategy to “show or prove” that the change decision is wrong. They may also resist showing that the person leading the change is not up to the task. These employees are committed to seeing the change effort fail.
- Loss of Support System: Employees already in their comfort zones, working with the managers they get along with, and who are operating within predictable routines know their support system will back them up during challenging times. Changing the organizational structures may shake their confidence in their support system. They may worry about working for a new supervisor, in a new team, or on unfamiliar projects because they fear that if they try and fail, there will be no one there to support them.
- Former Change Experience: Our attitudes about change are partly determined by the way we have experienced change in the past. For instance, if in your organisation, you have handled change badly in the past, the employees will have good reasons for rebelling. Again, in personal lives, how employee’s families reacted to change during their early years is going to affect the way they view change. Employees, who live in the same house, shop at the same stores, visit the same social club, and drive the same routes daily throughout their formative years may have more difficulty dealing with change than people who grew up in several different neighbourhoods. In the same way, those who become accustomed to associating with people who have the same values and ethics may find it more difficult to appreciate the diversity of today’s work force. An employee who was raised in a family that viewed change as a challenge to be tackled will probably have a more optimistic outlook about change than a person who was raised in a home that considered change an unwanted experience that upset the predictable family routine.
- Empathy and Peer Pressure: Whether we are introverted or extroverted, we are still social creatures. Organizational stakeholders will resist change to protect the interests of a group, team friends, and colleagues. It is normal for employees to resist change to protect their co-workers. This could be purely because they sympathise with their friends because of the change that has been thrusts at them. Managers too will resist change to protect their work groups or friends. All these behaviours can sabotage the success of any change.
- Lack of trust and support: Successful organizational change does not occur in a climate of mistrust. Trust, involves faith in the intentions and behaviour of others. In organizations where there is a high degree of trust and each individual employee is treated with respect and dignity, there is less resistance to change. Mutual mistrust will be the bane of an otherwise well planned change initiative. If an organisation is seen as being untrustworthy as demonstrated sometime in the past, so why would any employee trust such an organisation? Any sweeping changes on the job can cause employees to fear for their roles in the organisation. For this reason, a well planned outplacement support should be in place to mange and assist employees. Employees resist change because they are worried that they may not find another job easily and quickly.
As an employee, see the slides below to know how you can deal with Change in the Workplace -
As a leader in an organisation, see these slides below showing how you can initiate and manage Change in the Workplace:
Guiding Against Resistance – While we can’t change the behaviour of others, we can change our own. The following five tips will help an organisation move forward, even if it faces a sea of resistance. Leaders must develop the proper attitude towards resistance to change and realize that it is neither good nor bad. In fact, resistance can serve as a signal that there are ways in which the change effort should be modified and improved.
Organisations should share information with employees as soon as possible. However, this is a dilemma for public companies, where investor communication is a priority and then employees hear about a merger or reorganization on their car radio while on their way to work. Once fear and insecurity are heightened, an organisation will waste a lot of time getting back to a place of order, understanding, and productivity, and many people will first head to their desks to update their CV call employment agencies and their families.
Communication – Must be timely, straightforward, true, and consistent. Must contain reasons for the change, the plan, what needs to be achieved, a question and answer segment at the end. Remember to use a variety of communication pathways and vehicles. Some organizations make an enormous mistake in using only one vehicle, such as e-mail or the company intranet site.
Emotional Intelligence and Employee Participation - Managers should keep their eyes opened; they should be available and present to support their staff. When anticipating a change, get the team members who will be affected by that change involved early on. Find out what their fears are. What would it take for them to overcome those fears and support them. Usually, people with high self-esteem and self-confidence are better equipped to deal with changes in both their personal and organizational life. They can see the change process from a broad perspective. They have confidence, not only in themselves, but in the leadership above them. Self-confident people have an understanding of their part in the change process and see the value of dealing with change positively. This positive mental outlook enables them to consider the possibility that the change process might even provide greater opportunities for them and enhance their personal and career growth. Managers should look to use these employees first as their change evangelists. These employees could be given roles in order for them to be part of the change management team. These are the people that can help convert the employees that are resisting change. People don’t so much resent change, as they resent being changed. Don’t forget to also include your most negative employees. Getting them involved will alert you to potential drawbacks and challenges.
Listen, Listen and Listen – When you use questioning strategies to engage employees in searching for solutions gathering support for change efforts, listening is highly critical. Listen with an open mind. Listen to all input. Focus on being positive, rather than become defensive. When you are tempted to discount a contribution, ask for a repeat and question further. The most successful leaders are those who are experts at asking the right questions and then really listening to the responses.
Focus on Solutions – It’s easy to get emotionally caught up when dealing with opposition and begin to see opposition as a “them against me” scenario. This is just the time, however, when you need to maintain a clear, unemotional focus. As a leader, you must work hard to keep the people issues separate from the facts. One way to do this is to focus clearly on your goal or outcome. When you are tempted to blame others personally for your lack of progress, refocus on the reason for asking people to make changes. As you think about the problem that has created the need to change, ask yourself two questions, “What is it we need to accomplish?” and “What will it take for us to achieve our goals?” By focusing on solutions, you will channel your energies positively.
Forcing any type of change has its place. This approach alone is ineffective however. Managers who overuse this approach will harm their effectiveness over the long term. Without a thoughtful change strategy to address this area, leaders will trigger strong resistance and organizational turnover.
Have you been through an organisational change as an employee? How did you feel and how did you cope? As a leader, have you had to manage employee resistance to change before? If so, we want to hear from you.
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