How to Best Manage Resistance to Change in the Workplace

Are you a creature of habit? Many of us are, and it is for this reason that we can all be somewhat resistant to change when it happens. In the business world this creates a real challenge for employers. The challenge of overcoming resistance to something that it is felt will bring genuine business improvement and long-term success.

The reality is that people find change unsettling, so it is crucial for a business to be aware of this and form strategies to manage and overcome resistance emerging as a result of people worrying they won’t be able to cope, fearing the unknown, or even losing their jobs! There are many reasons for resistance and a range of ways in which it can present itself. Consider the following:

  • Some people may be determined to ignore change, firmly believing that it will go away
  • Some people may lack the will and desire to adapt and simply revert to adopting original behaviours
  • Some people may constantly and openly express their unhappiness with the change and seek to infect others with their negativity

Interestingly it isn’t always those on the receiving end of change that create the problem. Often poor change implementation can occur as a result of weak planning by change facilitators, insufficient availability of resource, an absence of foresight, critical requirements being overlooked, minimal communication and consultation, misalignment with business objectives, and absence of critical components such as effective training or plans to embed and evaluate new ways of working.

When embarking on change it is vital to recognise that there is a clear and present danger that resistance will occur, therefore a priority is to consider the potential for resistance from the outset. Doing this effectively should involve three critical stages:

  1. Defining of the change challenge, ensuring the benefits outweigh the risks and being clear about what the change should look like
  2. Consideration of everything that will help the change process, along with all of those things that may stand in the way
  3. Plans to eliminate the potential for the most likely change ‘blockers’ to emerge 

Change blockers may otherwise be referred to as resisting forces, and once these have been analysed it is critical to form a strategy for overcoming resistance. Depending on the size and degree of change to take place, the following strategic considerations will vary in depth and detail:

  • Development of a clear reasoning for the change based on analysis findings
  • Initial communication of the change and why it needs to happen
  • Regular communication to ensure that people are fully up to date and feel informed
  • The gaining of commitment by making sure that people are actively involved in the change and have the opportunity to provide feedback on planned change, make suggestions, provide input and actively contribute to its implementation
  • Provision of support to those affected by the change and who may need to adopt different working practices in order to carry out their roles efficiently and productively. This support may consist of activities such as individual performance and development discussions, delivery of training, and coaching and mentoring for change agents including managers and project leaders
  • Evaluation of change implementation and embedding it into the business. This may include the running of regular focus groups and ‘walking the floor’ to observe the changes in action and understand where modifications may be required if the change is to be sustained 

So, the effective management of change is critical and a business that fails to do this runs a range of risks which may be damaging to its credibility and corporate profile. The risks may include serious damage to collaborative working relationships, reduced levels of motivation, morale and commitment, reduced business productivity and profitability, increased staff attrition and loss of talent and experience, high absence levels, reduced customer confidence, loss of market share, and increased stress and anxiety.

Overall, it is vital to recognise that any business change will be met with a degree of resistance. People will always worry that they may not be able to cope with the new, or be left feeling vulnerable as a result of changed circumstances, structures, processes or systems. It is therefore key to rise to the challenge of change implementation by identifying the potential for resistance and developing a clear strategy for overcoming it.

READ MORE: When dealing with change management, 1-1 coaching can help with managing resistance when implementing new strategies and processes. Read more here from our CEO  Fiona Stilwell to learn about her experiences with coaching and mentoring.

Find our latest personal development courses here and if you require specialist coaching for your organisation, get in touch.