Understanding and dealing with resistance is an important part of managing change. Besides not having enough leadership support, resistance is one of the most common reasons that changes in organizations fail. When an organization wants to change what it accomplishes or produces, people in the organization need to change the way they work.
That probably doesn’t surprise anyone. As a species we simply don’t like change. We see it in ourselves, our family and friends, and people around us at work. We brush our teeth with the same hand every day, we eat generally the same types of food week in and week out, we hang out with the same circle of friends, and we do generally the same things.
Our natural resistance to change sets up special challenges for organizations that are looking to change.
Resistance is everywhere in organization. It can be pockets of leadership who haven’t jumped on the bandwagon yet. It can be those individuals whose jobs are directly impacted. Or it can be middle managers who are afraid of changes in structure or processes. Regardless of where it is, experienced change managers expect resistance.
The keys to managing resistance successfully are to understand why people resist change, and to help mitigate, or alleviate some of the reasons for resistance.
Resistance can be caused by structural issues in organizations – like having functional silos that make communication flow difficult, or having reporting relationships that work against people collaborating like they should.
But, most often, resistance is personal. Personal resistance can come from fear of the unknown, a perceived threat to expertise or prominence, or differences in views and experiences. It can also come from the fact that we are just plain wired to resist change. Try brushing your teeth with the wrong hand tonight. It’s a lot more work that you’d think. Asking someone to work differently is asking them to start brushing with their non-dominant hand. The urge to switch back to what is comfortable is really hard to fight!
Once you have an idea of what is causing the resistance to a change you are working on, then comes the time to get to work alleviating some of those sources of resistance. Turning a blind eye to valid concerns will simply slow down the momentum of the project. Responding to legitimate concerns and clarifying any misunderstandings will go a long way toward helping alleviate some resistance. A bit of empathy goes a long way too. Letting people know that you understand it is hard will be appreciated and can alleviate some of the stress and friction that resistance can cause.
What we know is that a small percentage of folks will be “Innovators” and “Early Adopters” – people who jump on the change bandwagon quickly. These people are the first to get on board because of either their natural tendency to be resilient, or their affinity to this specific change. Managing the change for these people is a piece of cake.
It will be the big chunk of the population, the “Early Majority” and “Late Majority”, where change managers need to focus their attention. Focusing on understanding what is causing resistance with this group will move you toward your critical mass of success. And oh yes, there will be about that group who may never get with the program. Don’t spend too much of your time on them. When you have most of the population on the change bandwagon…then you are well on your way to success.
Resistance is inevitable. It is OK. Don’t get jaded by it. Recognize it, figure out where it is coming from and why, and go deal with it head on!