Ten tips for overcoming resistance to change

Change is a fact of business life – but it’s also a fact that most people don’t like it. Whether it’s a major company restructure or simply a request they move to a new desk, we all like the comfort of doing the jobs we know. We like to use the systems and processes we’re used to and sitting next to the people we like.

resistance to change

When a change is made, people within a team can vary widely in the way they react. A few will immediately see the benefits of whatever shift is proposed and will embrace it enthusiastically. Some may grumble and say things like ‘we’ve always done it this way,’ but will get on board before too long. Then there are the people who stamp their feet, fight against the change every step of the way and refuse to co-operate until the last possible moment.

This latter group can be tricky to deal with and if you’re not careful they can not only delay whatever change you are trying to introduce, but can also have a negative impact on team morale. So what steps can you take to overcome resistance to change and get people on board?

1. Understand why people resist change

People are creatures of habit. It’s only natural for them to prefer the status quo over the uncomfortable and unknown. Understanding why people often fight against change is the first step to overcoming that resistance. In many cases, fear is at the root of resistance. Faced with a reorganisation, for example, they may be anxious about their job. Or if a new HR software system is being brought in, they may be worried their IT skills are lacking and they will struggle to get to grips with it.

2. Address personal concerns first

When a change is announced, people’s immediate priority is how it affects them personally. Naturally, they have questions about the impact on their day-to-day job and how a change might affect their role in the longer term. Make sure to address these personal concerns first, before trying to ‘sell’ the business benefits of whatever change you are trying to make.

3. Use resistance as an opportunity to start a conversation

If people challenge a change, they are actually demonstrating an interest in the business and a desire to get things done the best way. Use their objections as a way to start a positive conversation about what’s happening and what role they can play.

4. Listen and welcome suggestions

Listen to people’s challenges and don’t immediately dismiss their concerns. They may know things you don’t. If you’re introducing a new HR software system, for example, the people who will be using it every day will be in the best position to point out any gaps in processes. And they can make suggestions about additional useful data that could be input.

5. Uncover concerns

Don’t assume you know what people are worried about. Their concerns often go deeper than you might think. Probe to find out what is really on their minds. It will help to underline the message that you value their views and actively want their input.

6. Don’t let people wallow

You need to allow people some ‘hippo time’ to wallow in their feelings and concerns. But don’t let it go on for too long. There comes a point when people will have to accept that the change is happening and they need to SUMO (Shut up and Move on)*

7. Communicate regularly

Keep everyone in the loop about what’s happening, and give them as much detail as possible. If people don’t know the details, they will speculate and imagine the worst. In a major change scenario (such as a merger or restructuring) it’s important to keep communicating what you know – even if you don’t have the full picture yourself.

8. Identify change champions

Identify the people who are most likely to be early adopters of change. You need people who will enthusiastically embrace new ways of working. They will be trusted by their peers and will be able to lead the way and encourage others to follow suit.

9. Provide support and training

If people are asked to adopt new systems or work in a different way, make sure they are equipped with the skills and resources they need to do the job. Don’t just throw them in at the deep end. Provide training and support to help ensure a successful transition.

10. Accept some people won’t adapt

However hard you try, there are some people you will never be able to win over. If they can’t accept the change they (or you) may decide it’s time for them to move on – which may be the right solution for both parties.

*S.U.M.O (Shut Up, Move On): The Straight Talking Guide to Succeeding in Life, Paul McGee

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