Change — irrespective of the sector, industry, experience, employees, etc. — is sometimes tough to achieve. In many organizations today, transformational change is the least understood, as well as the most difficult type to execute. Although the change may be well-planned, communicated and implemented, most times there will be some level of resistance. One has to remember that change interferes with the culture, behavior and mindset of employees, so, to implement change successfully, you have to manage resistance.
Resistance to Change
Change is sometimes necessary and inevitable. Unfortunately, workers sometimes view change as a direct attack on their performance or as an unnecessary whim of management. In most cases, resistance arises from threats to norms and traditional ways of doing things; as a result, it is a basic tenet of human behavior to resist any change.
I clearly remember my first major experience with change. It was nerve-wracking because I was very confused about the change and how it would affect my daily routine on the job. Quite naturally, I resisted it.
To efficiently execute any change, one has to take into consideration the environments your employees have grown accustomed to. Any change to an employee’s psychological contract will, in most instances, fuel that resistance. If management cannot adequately evaluate the impact of the changes taking place, this will lead to the non-fulfillment of the company's strategic objectives.
What can management do to mitigate this resistance?
Use Change Agents
Employees should have a role in the designing, planning and implementation of the change. Get your employees involved, have change agents within the departments and give them the responsibility to engage their fellow staff members about the change in an attempt to sell the vision.
See also: Small Steps Drive Significant Change
The change agents should be long-standing employees who have some degree of influence in the company. The principles of social proof taught us that people will naturally follow the crowd. When an employee recognizes that a long-standing compatriot shares the vision of the manager or CEO, these employees will be far more easily convinced to accept the changes, especially if there are trust issues in the organization. Employees aren't just hearing another speech from the boss.
Resistance to change is really "resistance to uncertainty." To overcome resistors, the management team must ensure communication plays an integral role. The Change Curve model, illustrated below, describes the four stages most people go through as they adjust to change. It is extremely important that one recognizes these stages:
For example, an initial reaction to change may be shock or denial. Communication has to be a priority at this stage. Although employees may be able to absorb a limited amount of information, management must ensure its employees have a natural pathway to access more information if they need it, and management must be patient enough to answer any questions that come up. I have seen some managers refuse to answer staff questions about a change in the organization, and that kind of ridiculous stand by the manager derails the whole process even before it actually begins.
In Stage Two, people may fear the impact, feel angry, resist or actively protest against the changes. For many organizations, this is the “danger zone,” and, if this stage is managed badly, the organization may descend into crisis or chaos. Careful consideration should be given to the impact of the changes and to objections people may have. Again, communication and support will play a vital role in minimizing and mitigating the problems people will experience.
Stages Three and Four are the turnaround stages. This is where the changes start to become second nature and where people embrace the improvements to the way they work and, in many instances, show the commitment to the changes that took place.
To ensure the individual departments are in alignment with the shared goals and objectives of the organization, an organization-wide communication approach — predominantly from the bottom up — must be instituted. I have witnessed the failure of change simply because management did not understand the vital role that communication plays.
Any management team leading a transformational change must ensure that the vision is consistently communicated. Employees model their behaviors on the actions of management, so leadership must make sure its values are aligned with the core values they are trying to instill in the organization.
If the leadership does not “walk the talk” of the change, the whole change process will not go anywhere. The communication will have no impact if management shows no commitment to the change. The organization will always be in a whirlwind of change, with no end in sight.
See also: 3 Main Mistakes in Change Management
Change is challenging. Resistance is inevitable. However, if management shows commitment to the process, genuinely communicates and embraces employee feedback, the change process can be very successful.