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One of the most common questions we get in our change management consulting is how to overcome resistance to change. Our clients look a little frustrated when we tell them, “you can’t.” But it’s true. It doesn’t matter if a change is perceived as negative or positive, if it is transformational in scope or a small procedural one, resistance is going to occur. And the fact of the matter is, you can’t combat it, solve it or overcome it. Instead, resistance needs to be surfaced, understood and then managed.
What Does Resistance Look Like?
Resistance to change is not a function of someone liking or understanding a change. It is a function of disruption. The more the targets of a change believe their current work habits and patterns will be impacted, the more resistance you will see. Sources of resistance can be individual or organizational. If you hear comments like these, you are dealing with resistance to your change:
- This is never going to work
- We don’t need this
- This is NOT going to be good
- The current (insert tools/systems/process, etc.) has been working just fine for years
- I am not changing the way I’ve been doing my job for the past umpteen years
- Our customers are the ones who are going to suffer
- We tried this same thing years ago and it didn’t work
The type of resistance you confront will reflect your organizational culture and can be subtle. If you have an analytical culture, for example, your resistance will sound analytical. "I’m not so sure about this change, what proof do you have that it will work?” Or if your culture is risk-averse, you'll hear statements like, "What does everyone else think?”
No matter how it is expressed in your own organization, we can tell you for sure, resistance will occur. It can be out in the open (overt) or deep down in the hidden corners of the organization (covert), but trust us…it is there.
Eight Practical Ways to Manage Resistance to Change
Approaches such as discounting resistance, denying it exists, or trying to beat it down, ironically only serve to worsen the situation. Here are eight practical tips from the Accelerating Implementation Methodology (AIM); a structured, practical change management process for the human side of organizational change, on how to manage change resistance:
- “De Personalize” the Resistance – Do not take resistance to a change personally. It is not about YOU.
- Surface Resistance Early – Start looking for resistance to a change as soon as the project begins. Use tactics such as focus groups, social media, team meetings and hot lines to begin surfacing resistance as early as possible.
- Explain the Change from the Target’s Frame of Reference - What is a small change in the eyes of one person may be very big from another’s perspective. Make sure you are communicating from each Targets’ Frame of Reference, and that you answer the two “me” questions: “What is in it for me?” and “What does it mean to me?”
- Communicate – Every communication sent during any implementation must include a feedback loop in order to allow individuals to express their thoughts and feelings about the change. This is a great way for Change Agents to gather information about potential sources of resistance.
- Use Involvement Techniques – It may not be appropriate to involve people in deciding what to change, but you can almost always get them involved in how to implement it in their daily work. TIP: Take your most vocal non-supporters and put them on the project team! It’s the perfect way to keep an eye on them and involve them in creating a solution for their issues.
- Make Surfacing Resistance Safe - When you are looking to bring covert resistance out in the open, don’t punish individuals for expressing their resistance.
- Invest in Readiness – Readiness and Resistance are two sides of the same coin. If you invest in readiness by giving Targets information, motivation, ability and confidence you will see less resistance while the change takes place.
- Prepare for Resistance to Come Back – Even if you successfully manage resistance once, trust us it will come back. Managing resistance is definitely not a one time, check the box that you are done event. As a project evolves, so does the resistance to it which is why managing resistance must be an ongoing activity throughout a project’s life cycle.
When it comes to resistance to change the question should not be whether you will or will not have it, but rather how much will there be and what strategies will you use to manage it. Using these eight tactics to manage the resistance to change you face will allow your implementation to move ahead at speed.