by Leigh Ann Gowland, founder of Employee Driven Change
As a change manager a question I am frequently asked is: “How do you manage strong change resistors?” Resistors are often perceived as negative, avoided and excluded from the change process. They are expected to adapt to the change over time as a consequence of peer pressure, policy or instruction. When the resistor doesn’t have any other choice they will change. As a change manager, I welcome the opportunity to engage with resistors because they care enough about the change to voice their concerns at the risk of being ostracized. They have the potential to become advocates for the change. Understanding and embracing resistors to change can be valuable to you and your business.
- Have you taken time to reflect on a significant change you experienced?
- How did you react when the change was introduced?
- Were you surprised, excited or scared?
- How did you prepare yourself for the change?
- How did you feel after you successfully navigated through the change?
- What did you learn from the change that prepared you for future change challenges?
It is important to recognize that response to change is unique and can be influenced by a variety of factors. Take time to listen to resistors’ concerns, fears and opinions.
Change of heart
Scenario 1: An outsourced administration service offered to your client includes numerous financial and business benefits, but the office manager is resistant to the offering. She is worried about the impact on her job and her team. She is a single mother who takes care of her elderly parents. She has a good reputation at the company and her income is essential to taking care of her family. This single change at work could potentially compromise her roles as a manager, employee, mother and daughter. The threat she feels to her quality of life and status is personal and cannot be mitigated by a business case.
In our professional roles we are encouraged not to show emotions such as fear, worry or negativity but to think logically and objectively. Unfortunately, we should recognize that in all interactions we are engaging with the whole person: a client, an employee, a mother, a husband, a daughter, a pensioner, a grandparent, a graduate, an entrepreneur; and the individual’s perception of themselves in these roles. When evaluating the risk of change, the individual could be considering the impact on any of their roles and the emotions attached to these roles.
A heart to heart with a strong resistor could provide insight into drivers behind their resistant feelings or behaviour. When the resistor can raise their concerns and feel heard they often become open to explore options, offer solutions and willing to be involved in driving the change. Explore the benefits of the proposed change for their unique circumstances. By minimizing the threat and offering opportunity to develop a solution they will be more willing to tackle challenges and take risks.
Change the mind
Scenario 2: A new accounting software pitched to your client will significantly add value to the business but the accountant is resistant to the solution. He has worked for the company for 10 years and has implemented many excel tools and validation processes ensuring good annual financial audits. He has attended the demonstration of solution and the system appears complex and uses cloud based information. He is concerned that his lack of knowledge of new technology and information security could place the company at risk. If he doesn’t understand the solution; how can he guarantee all the relevant checks are in place to ensure reliability of company financial records?
Individuals often find comfort in their knowledge and their ability to perform their responsibilities with ease. When introducing a new way of working they may feel nervous and uncertain of their ability to learn new skills. Training and education are common solutions but usually isolated interventions. By involving the resistor in aligning the current and new ways of working, experimenting with the change and educating their peers they become change champions long after the implementation is complete. Empower the resistor to develop new skills and take accountability for the success of the change.
Change in context
Scenario 3: When introducing a new product to a group of buyers you carefully outline the features of the product and the projected savings for their business. A number of the buyers in the group display reluctance to purchase your product as they do not trust new brands. They have purchased similar types of products from small businesses in the past and have encountered problems with quality, delivery timelines and after sales service. Why should they work with you when they have an existing relationship with reputable brands?
Change resistance may not be a reflection on the change you are introducing but a consequence of the resistor’s negative past experiences. Before taking a chance on something new the individual may question the credibility, evidence and objectives of the change. They consider the risk of change greater than the risk of maintaining the current state.
In these circumstances take time to understand successful and unsuccessful change the resistor has experienced in the past. Identify lessons that can be learnt from experience and provide evidence of how your change can mitigate these risks. By being transparent with the resistor you can establish a level of trust and define an approach to change which reassures the resistor.
Change the plan
Not all changes are good in all situations. In a fast-paced world, we feel a sense of urgency to continuously evolve to the changing needs of competitors, markets, environments and customer expectations. A healthy skepticism can provide valuable input into the change process. As remarkable as the change appears it is important to explore the change in the context to which it is being applied. Identify resistors with whom you can analyze the risks of change and evaluate the overall impact. A failed change may have a bigger negative impact than a delayed change after period of stabilization or refinement. Additional time and new insights might equip you with knowledge to improve the success of the change.
In my experience, few resistors are intentionally creating barriers to be sabotage the outcome. From the perspective of the resistor, they are concerned about the risks and threats of the change. Taking a moment to understand their views and using their insight to refine the transition could enrich the outcome for everyone.
Leigh Ann Gowland is an independent change management consultant and the founder of Employee Driven Change, and assists companies with large change initiatives while making change work for individuals. With fifteen years of experience in change management, human resources, and workforce transformation, she understands individual and business change across industries, projects and corporate cultures. Her approach to consulting and coaching styles is informed by Systems Theory and her passion for empowering others to understand and drive change and apply these skills.
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