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Resistance to Change: How to Overcome Employee Pushback

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Overcoming employee resistance to change is one of the most challenging parts of making any organizational change.

Whether you’re changing a business process, restructuring a department or company, or implementing new enterprise software, you will likely encounter pushback and resistance to change from employees.

Combating resistance needs to be a part of your overall change management plan and strategy.

In this guide, we’ll provide an overview of the best approaches for dealing with resistance to change.

We’ll start by examining the top reasons employees resist change; then, we’ll explore six proven strategies for overcoming resistance to change. Finally, we’ll review some best practices to ensure your organizational change is successful.

Why People Resist Change

Before you can overcome resistance to change inside your organization, you need to understand the cause.

While there are many types of organizational change, employee pushback is fairly common and typically caused by one of these reasons:

  • Fear and low tolerance
  • Self-interest
  • Lack of Trust
  • Poor Communication

Read More:- Organizational Change Management Models For Enterprises

3 Types of Resistance to Change

Here are the three main types of resistance to change I have encountered:

A. Group resistance

Group resistance is when a group of people or employees all resist the change. Again, this is often due to a justifiable reason. There is strength in numbers when it comes to group resistance.

B. Passive and active change resistance

The individual does not agree with the change but remains silent about it. He/she appears to go with the flow but deep down resists the change.
Opposite to passive resistance, people in this category speak up and act against the change. Directly or indirectly, they find a way to let matters stay the same way.

C. Attachment change resistance

Having strong emotional ties with existing practices, the individual tries to convince others not to push through changes. If it is not possible to fully block the change, he/she will attempt to compromise to retain the core of some processes.

4 Factors for resistance to change

The following are some factors for employee resistance to change:

1. A short-sighted focus

Most change strategies concentrate on fixing internal challenges failing to address external factors such as the customer experience, competitor moves, and advancements in technology.

2. Change Fatigue

Employees may get overwhelmed by multiple change projects that happen simultaneously or in quick succession. Such projects may cause change fatigue which may occur as burnout and frustration. It can even affect employees’ engagement and productivity.

3. Lack of endurance

When employees are not driven or trained enough to handle such unforeseen circumstances, they may cause unnecessary chaos. Also, if your business doesn’t have a full-fledged plan of the entire procedure right from the first day to the final outcomes, it may result in failure.

4. Company Culture

An organization with a change-resistant culture can find it challenging to implement change. Employees tend to get invested in a process that stays long in the organization. Thus, they get comfortable with the status quo. However, if leaders can map the stakeholders that the change will affect and educate and train them for transition, the change process will be accepted.

4 Reasons Why Employees Resist Change

Reason 1: Fear and Low Tolerance

Many employees dislike change because they are afraid. They fear that they won’t have the time to develop the new skills and behavior required of them, which leads to insecurity.

A lack of time to adapt also leads to the fear that they’ll appear incompetent in front of their colleagues. Adjustments could also lead to a loss of some relationships and activities, and an establishment of others.

If a person’s tolerance for change is low, they might begin to actively resist the change for reasons they don’t even understand, and these reasons are often rooted in fear of failure.

Reason 2: Self-Interest

Some people might perceive that a change means they will lose power, whether that is significant decision-making power or the power of influence on their team. Other people might see one change as a sign that more changes are coming, which they could perceive as a threat.

If someone believes that a change means that their job is at risk, they are very likely to resist the change. They will push back on any effort that they perceive as a potential threat to their current situation.

Reason 3: Lack of Trust

If there is already a lack of trust between the manager and his or her employees, then employees are likely to resist when the manager introduces a change. While it’s difficult to establish a high level of trust between employees and managers, managers must work on these relationships.

Without trust, misunderstandings develop, and employees are less likely to “buy in” to essential changes. Managers need to quickly clear up any misconceptions so that resistance does not build and deepen across an organization.

Reason 4: Poor Communication

How the change is communicated to employees is extremely important. If a change isn’t communicated in its entirety, or if it’s only communicated to a particular group of people, other affected employees will likely resist. The way the change is communicated determines how employees will react.

If a manager can’t describe the process of exactly what needs to be changed, how the changes will be implemented, and how the change will improve things, then resistance should be expected.

Resistance to change is natural and should be expected. Employees fear losing relationships, activities, and even their jobs. Sometimes, they don’t trust that the change is worth the costs or that their manager knows what he or she is doing.

It’s vital to address resistance to change. By building trust and communicating the change clearly, managers can work against an employee’s impulse to resist and cultivate an environment that’s accepting of change.

Effective Ways to Minimize Employee Resistance to Change

Change takes time. No matter how detailed your change management strategy may be and how confident you are about the timeline, hurdles and hiccups are bound to surprise you. Implementing change involves various steps and requires the dedicated involvement of several stakeholders.

You are bound to have a hard time ensuring that everything is on track at all times. While an ideal implementation may seem like a possibility on paper, the reality on the ground may prove to be quite different. It is crucial to remember that sticking to the plan is vital despite challenges and delays.

The following are some effective ways to minimize employee change resistance,

i. Align the Strategies

Leaders need to collect enough data during planning. It allows them to create an understanding of the entire situation at the organization and formulate strategies that will be effective. If you make strategies that do not align, the change management process will fail. You need to foresee the outcome of the plan.

ii. Prioritize Well

Instead of large, all-at-once change implementation, opt for a slower, phased change approach to reduce change fatigue. Starting small and gradually scaling up will ensure that your employees are not overwhelmed.

iii. Focus on training and support

To reinforce the change, it is important that you provide support and some training to the employees. Training will help the employees to boost their productivity and also help them to overcome the barriers of change.

iv. Follow a framework

To create a smooth flow of activities and encourage the adoption of the change management policies, you need to limit resistance. The best way to do this is to implement the ADKAR framework. The elements of this model are as follows:

  • A- Awareness (of the need to change)
  • D- Desire (to make change)
  • K- Knowledge (on how to change)
  • A- Ability (to implement change)
  • R- Reinforcement (to keep the change in place)

v. Devise a Communication Plan

Answer the simple queries like ‘what’s in it for me?’. You may eliminate ambiguity by describing the process, the essential milestones, and the procedures needed to get there.
Map out a communication plan that delivers the change management strategy with consideration and empathy. The more details you share with the team, the more positive a response you can expect to get from the team.

vi. Be firm with your strategic direction

Knowing what your next steps are is pivotal towards building resilience towards change. While communication is pivotal, without direction, it will lose cohesiveness too. To do so, be clear with what your objectives are. Have an estimated timeline on how your company or how the team will adapt to change.

Selecting a Strategy for Overcoming Resistance to Change

Once you’ve identified potential sources of resistance to change, you will need to implement specific strategies to address employees’ concerns.

Whether it is adapting to modern technology or overcoming resistance to change due to the COVID-19 pandemic, companies must leverage different strategies.

Strategy 1: Education & Communication

One of the chief sources of resistance is a misunderstanding of the change and the reasons for it. That means that your top strategy for overcoming resistance is to educate and clearly communicate with your organization’s employees and stakeholders.

The rumour mill can be vicious, so make sure that you’re transparent to prevent misinformation. Of course, this strategy only works alone if there are no other significant sources of resistance.

Strategy 2: Participation & Involvement

People like to feel as though they’re a part of things. If they believe they lack control or that their input doesn’t matter, they’re more likely to show resistance to change.

Make sure that you involve employees in the change, through seminars, working groups, committees, and other ways that people can give feedback and ask questions — or even be part of the change.

The primary drawback of this strategy is that you could have “too many cooks in the kitchen” and experience a drawn-out change process.

Strategy 3: Facilitation & Support

Many employees associate change with cutbacks and lost opportunities. Transition is difficult for everyone, so make sure your management team is equipped to fully support employees who feel nervous about the change.

You may need to expand your counseling and mentoring options, offer extended training, or fully communicate employees’ new opportunities for growth and promotion. If the primary source of resistance is anxiety about one’s future or role within the organization, this strategy can work very well.

A digital adoption platform is another option for overcoming resistance to change when employees feel overwhelmed by a new software or process.

A digital adoption solution, like Apty, can provide on-screen guidance to walk users through the changes step-by-step.

Strategy 4: Negotiation and Agreement

Sometimes, members of the organization will simply not adapt to change. Perhaps they have a vested interest in the way things were, or the change would unseat them from a position of power.

Have a plan to allow for negotiations and natural transitions out of the organization or into a new position within the organization. This approach can be expensive but may be useful when the change involves major disruptions to your current org chart.

Strategy 5: Manipulation and Co-optation

This strategy may not be advisable for all organizations. It is the practice of asking a pivotal individual to or group to take a prominent leadership role in the company or the change management initiative for the sole purpose of influencing the people who follow them.

The position is only symbolic, though, as the real leaders have no interest in the person’s input and are only seeking to manipulate their political or social sphere. Co-optation can easily backfire if people learn that they’ve been misled or manipulated.

Save this strategy for situations when transformation needs to happen quickly and inexpensively, and other methods won’t work.

Strategy 6: Explicit and Implicit Coercion

In extreme circumstances, it may not be feasible to take your time with prolonged communication and education efforts. The coercion strategy involves the change management team forcing employees of the organization to accept the change.

Those who refuse to adapt or comply will be fired or demoted. In situations where you expect a lot of resistance but must make a change quickly, this strategy may be the only option.

Best Practice for Dealing With Resistance to Change

No matter which strategies you deploy, organizational change will probably produce anxiety or aversion in your employees. A change management team needs to fully assess their organization’s unique needs and anticipate any sources of resistance to the change.

By incorporating these seven best practices into their change management plans, leaders can help the transition happen more smoothly and quell any concerns.

1. Address the social aspects of the change

Employees may be accustomed to long-standing traditions and structures, such as reporting to a particular person or documenting their work a certain way. When change starts happening, they may perceive the transition as a threat to their way of doing things.

Others may be concerned about losing their valued working relationships or reporting to a new boss. Keep these concerns in mind and consider offering new mentorship or support opportunities to ease anxiety.

2. Identify any existing trust issues and be transparent

While change can undoubtedly affect the trust that employees have with the management team, existing trust issues will be exacerbated. Those who don’t trust management are more likely to be suspicious of change — and therefore resistant to it.

That’s why it’s essential to be fully transparent during the transition so that even if trust has been/is damaged, employees can start to build it with management.

3. Communicate the logic for the change

For those not in a management position, some changes might seem to be “progress for progress’ sake.” If they don’t have the information about why a change is needed or how it might improve their efficiency, they’re more likely to dismiss it as a cumbersome new procedure or a power play by management. Always be open about why the change is happening, and show your employees any relevant data.

4. Be mindful of people’s skill gaps

Sometimes, people simply don’t have the competencies to meet new procedures. This is especially true for technological transitions. Rather than taking the resistance as simple aversion, take note of employees’ concerns about their ability to perform their jobs.

Additional training or new equipment options might be in order. Again, this is an area where you can leverage a Digital Adoption Solution to overcome the barriers to organization learning & training programs, and employee’s technical skills gaps.

5. Have a plan for those who will be negatively affected

Change will always leave someone in the lurch if positions have been eliminated or shuffled. Any changes to the org chart will breed resentment and potentially an employee exodus if not managed well.

The change management team needs to anticipate pushback from people who are inconvenienced by the change, then create a robust transition plan for those who are leaving positions or occupying new ones.

6. Give team members a chance to participate

When change is happening, people are likely to feel confused and nervous. Handing them a measure of control or power over the situation can alleviate their anxieties and decrease resistance to change.

Look for ways to bring your team members on board with the change, such as giving them the chance to provide feedback or make small decisions about how change will happen in their department.

7. Be ready to deal with conflict

A strong team spirit and collaboration will help make the change more manageable, so it’s well worth your time to conduct team-building exercises. Latent employee conflicts will come out during transitional periods, so ensure that you set up mediation procedures.

The management should use their emotional intelligence to help resolve issues and ensure a smooth transition for everyone.

Key Takeaways for Dealing With Resistance to Change

Change can be scary. To effectively make change happen in your organization, take the time to plan your approach thoroughly, and set up any necessary support systems.

Remember, people may be resistant to change for several reasons. The change management team should anticipate these sources of resistance and take a transparent, constructive approach when addressing them.

By selecting the right strategies for dealing with resistance to change and following the best practices in this guide, you can empower a more efficient, streamlined change process.

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Nathan Altadonna

Nathan Altadonna

A former journalist and product manager, Nathan is a proud tech geek who blogs about digital transformation, employee productivity, and enterprise software. In addition to his work with Apty, Nathan runs his own consulting company, Innate Digital, helping companies develop content and get the most out of their marketing tech stack.

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