Resistance to change is one of the biggest stumbling blocks in change management.
In fact, some change professionals are downright afraid of it – it can be a serious headache, after all.
Fortunately, though, dealing with resistance is not mysterious or impossible. It just takes some people skills, planning, and communication.
But to properly deal with resistance to change, we first have to understand it.
So let’s dive in.
What Is Resistance to Change?
Resistance to change is just what it sounds like.
People don’t want to change, so they oppose it.
In change management, there are three “bogeymen of change.”
1. Employee Resistance
Employee resistance is probably the biggest obstacle to change initiatives.
Staff resistance is very common, but that doesn’t make it easy to deal with.
According to some sources, it can be one of the leading causes of failures.
This is why many change management frameworks specifically revolve around ways to reduce this resistance.
2. Executive Resistance
Resistance from the top is another common obstacle.
It does not get as much press as employee resistance. But it’s an obstacle nonetheless.
And, if it’s underestimated, executive resistance can also deal a killing blow to any change program.
3. Customer Resistance
Customer resistance can also cause major problems for change initiatives.
In many instances, change manager’s aren’t responsible for handling customer resistance.
It often falls on the shoulders of customer-facing departments, from sales and marketing to customer service.
However, it’s good to be aware of this type of resistance.
Sidelining customers can result in very serious blunders … the type that can damage a business’s bottom line.
Reasons for Resistance
Why do these three groups resist change?
After all, change is usually a good thing. Everyone involved benefits … right?
Yes, it’s true that most change programs benefit employees, executives, and customers alike.
However, not everyone knows this.
Being blindsided by change creates a host of problems – fear being one of the biggest.
A few causes for resistance include…
Fear of the unknown.
People are comfortable in familiar territory.
Routine is relaxing and safe.
Replace familiarity with ambiguity, and people react negatively.
Employee training and onboarding are critical during hiring and software deployment.
Digital adoption that neglects to train employees effectively will produce poor results.
Employees will resist, which will lower motivation and productivity.
No one wants to learn new things
Of course, even without the “fear factor,” there are other reasons to resist change.
When companies adopt new software, work processes, or tools, people have to learn new things.
And many people don’t want to learn new things.
Change means more work
After all, learning new things means more work.
And change programs almost always take a bit of effort.
Above and beyond new skills, tools, and work processes, employees may be required to:
- Attend meetings
- Go to workshops
- Participate in training (which may or may not be relevant)
- Get used to new coworkers or work situations
And so on.
Out with the “comfortable old,” in with the “uncomfortable new.”
Finally, the comfortability of familiarity has become “home” to many employees.
Changing this comfortable routine means removing something comfortable.
In many cases, employees enjoy their old habits, work environments, and circumstances.
Removing this signifies a loss, so it’s only natural that people would resist this.
Okay, now that we’ve established some solid reasons for resistance … what do you do about it?
How to Overcome Resistance to Change
Fortunately for change managers, there are many resources available for preventing resistance to change.
Below, we’ll cover a few of these in brief.
Change models are your friend – use them
Change frameworks have been designed specifically to reduce resistance and boost support.
Review them, then choose a framework that suits you.
Obtain buy-in at all levels
Buy-in is critical to obtaining support.
And the more support you have, the less resistance there is.
Not only do you need to find ways to get buy-in from staff, you must get it from executives.
By making change programs strategically important for a business, it’s much easier to obtain support from the top.
The reason for this is, of course, that executives think from a top-down perspective. They look at the organization, its bottom line, and its strategic direction.
Put that mindset first, and you’ll stand a greater chance of overcoming executive resistance.
Understand how your fellow coworkers view change
Hopefully, the section above offered some insight into the hearts and minds of employees.
However, make sure to apply these ideas, instead of just reading about them.
Have discussions, meetings, and get feedback. This will put you on the first step towards an effective change initiative: open communication.
It’s important to do this for everyone involved with change – employees, executives, and customers.
Put yourself in their shoes, read up on change management psychology, and listen to them.
The bottom line is that overcoming resistance is possible.
However, it does take some effort.
It requires clear communication, buy-in at all levels, and an understanding of your peers’ psychology. Change frameworks and models are an excellent starting place.
With the right approach, resistance can be overcome – and you can expect great results from your change initiative.
Chris is the Lead Author & Editor of Change Blog. Chris established the Change blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to Change Management.