Ten tips for overcoming resistance to change

Change is a fact of life and we’ve had a lot of it in the past couple of years. Despite this, it’s also a given that most people don’t like it. Whether it’s a major company restructure or simply a request to move to a new desk, the fear of the unknown makes many of us resistant to change.

overcoming change employees pull

But for organisations and their workforce to innovate and progress, change is necessary. So, what steps can you take to overcome resistance and get people on board?

1. Understand why people fight change

People are creatures of habit; it’s natural to prefer status quo over the uncomfortable and unknown. Understanding why people often fight against change is the first step to overcoming resistance. In many cases, fear is the cause.

Faced with a reorganisation, for example, people may be anxious about their job. Or if new HR software is being brought in, they may be worried their IT skills are lacking and they will struggle to get to grips with it.

Based on your current work environment or company culture, make a list of possible reasons why people might oppose any new initiatives you’re trying to roll out.

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 making.

It’s important that the benefits and opportunities that open up through change are communicated to everyone in a variety of ways, verbally and in written form, to ensure they’re adequately explained.

3. Use resistance as an opportunity to start a conversation

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

Consider sending out an anonymous survey for employees to complete or creating a temporary committee made up of different members across the organisation for important workforce decisions, for example, when improving DEI efforts.

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 included.

Just reassuring people that this is a two-way conversation can help ease anxieties about change.

5. Uncover concerns

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

It’s worth coordinating with line managers to gather more opinions on the matter. Remember that employees might feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts on flexible working, for example, in a one-to-one conversation with their manager due to their personal/private circumstances.

6. Don’t let people wallow

You need to allow your staff some time to process 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 change is happening. Give people ample notice about when changes will take place and, if there are any major concerns, ask them to let you know before then.

There will be times when you’ll need to move quickly, and employees might not have the chance to raise their worries (for example, closing the office and asking everyone to work from home due to COVID-19). In such cases, it’s important people know that they can still reach out to HR or their line managers to voice their concerns.

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 restructure), it’s important to keep communicating what you know (and can share), even if you don’t have the full picture yourself.

Whether you share the news through an internal company newsletter or post on the organisation’s HR portal, make sure information about the latest changes are clear, up to date and easy to find.

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 should be trusted by their peers and will be able to lead the way and encourage others to follow suit.

Invite volunteers when you’re trying out a new tool or system, or have a trial period for the change you’re looking to implement, and see who has a positive response to it.

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. The level of support you give must be proportional to the complexity of the change you’re making. It can be something as simple as giving links to external resources or as involved as carrying out several workshop sessions.

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) might decide it’s time for them to move on – which may be the right solution for both parties.

But you should avoid a lose-lose situation as much as possible. Try to establish a compromise to avoid ill feelings that can negatively impact everyone’s work.

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