How to manage resistance to change in the workplace

How to manage resistance to change in the workplace

Change is a part of life; but for many, it can be scary. There’s a reason it’s called a comfort zone and being asked to step outside of it can lead to anger, frustration or anxiety. If we feel threatened by change, we’ll often find ways to push back and maintain the status quo. This happens in the workplace as much as anywhere else.

Even if the change is intended to improve the working environment, it can still be met with resistance. Indeed, some types of change are unavoidable, like technological developments or the arrival of younger employees with different skills. In spite of these likely positive changes, people can still believe it may negatively impact their work.

According to management consultants McKinsey, “70% of change programs fail to achieve their goals…due to employee resistance and lack of management support.” Ultimately, resistance from the team can make or break your change initiative. So how can you help people feel more comfortable? Here, we share three essential tips.

Identify the root cause of the resistance

It’s like treating a chronic ailment; focussing on the symptoms won’t solve the underlying issue. To effectively mitigate resistance from your team, consider why they might be hostile to change. Begin by asking yourself why particular employees might be so invested in the status quo. Once these groups or individuals have been identified, hold discussions to give them space to express their concerns. This will give you a concrete basis to help alleviate their anxieties.

Fully involve the management

If the senior management aren’t throwing all their weight behind change, it’s unlikely the team is going to buy it. Active and visible buy-in from the senior management is one of the key drivers of change. If the leadership isn’t committed, employees may perceive it as unimportant and stymy the transition. To demonstrate their commitment, the management should communicate their vision and reasons for the change clearly and directly.

Ensure clear communication

We touched on it just now, but we can’t stress the importance of communication enough. How you communicate the change is an important arbiter of how much resistance will occur. Therefore, you need to clearly explain why the change is needed and what they must do to carry it forward. The key is to tell a compelling, inspiring story that shows how this change will lead to a brighter future in the company. Phrasing and body language is key: use positive words and avoid limiting language like “should” or “can’t”.

Carry the team forward to a better future

Resistance to change is natural, but not inevitable. Although it might be uncomfortable, or require a change of attitude or habits, it will ultimately lead to a more successful company and better working environment. Leadership has the power to manage resistance to change by clearly communicating the benefits, setting an example, and opening a forum with employees to express their concerns. Then, the team can move forward to embrace change and reap the benefits that come with it.



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