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Overcoming Resistance to Change

Updated: Mar 18, 2023

While change is inevitable, people handle it in different ways. Some are enthusiastic and embrace the opportunity for new challenges, while others are fearful or set in their ways and resist change. As a change agent or a leader that is initiating change, you will at some point encounter both personality types. As a result, the approach you take when introducing change in a dynamic workplace must be tailored to your audience.

Across industries and sectors, the track record for organizational change is not good. Research finds that anywhere from 50%–75% of change efforts fail. And for those that do succeed, many don’t achieve the goals of the original vision. Why is change so hard?

The biggest hurdle to effective organizational change is people. Whether a change initiative is related to a new strategy, more-efficient processes, or a new structure that better meets the needs of the company – people are the X factor. The job of a change agent or leader is to help others overcome the inherent, very human bias toward maintaining the status quo.

Who resists change?

While there is a misconception that change only affects low level employees, this is not the case. Change affects everyone in an organization from facilities personnel to upper management. Additionally, resistance has nothing to do with intelligence. Not even the smartest among us are not immune to the scariness of impending changes. So, who are the potential resistors? Everyone!

Strategies to Overcome Resistance to Change:

Listen First – Talk Second

The first strategy to overcome resistance to change is to communicate. Communication is key — and you probably already knew that. However, there are two parts to communication – and listening is one of the them. People want to be heard, and giving them a chance to voice their concerns will help alleviate the frustration and fear they feel about the situation.

Moreover, the thoughts, concerns and suggestions that are shared will prove wildly valuable to guide any change effort. At the very least, understanding them will help to pinpoint the root of resistance to change.

Explain the Why, What and How

The next strategy to overcome resistance to change is communicating the why, what and how. Develop a communication plan that is more than just telling your employees what you want them to do. Effective communication that targets each audience, focusing on what they care about and need to know. Underline why this change will benefit them.

Be Enthusiastic About the Changes

How you communicate the change has a huge impact on how much resistance to change will occur. If you enthusiastically communicate the reasons for change and outline a clear end-state vision, your enthusiasm will be contagious. Any hesitancy will undermine the plan.

What’s Good for the People is Good for the Company

Change is only possible if your people get on board, so make sure changes are approached in terms of the people. If you are implementing a new process, or initiative, plan it through the lens of the people being affected by the change. The company’s bottom line is important, but it can’t be the only reason for driving change. It’s not just about about why the change is good for the company, it is about why it will make the workplace better for the people.

Have Peers Be the Change Agents

A great strategy to overcome resistance to change is: Fight resistance with culture. Train team members who are natural leaders first. They will serve as role models and influencers for the rest of your employees. This will have a ripple effect.

Celebrate Results

Share frequent updates about progress, including what has been successful and what needs to be improved. Nurturing this kind of authenticity and transparency encourages the people to trust their leaders and have confidence the company has their best interests in mind.

Whether the change being implemented will be completed quickly or require a significant amount of time, it’s important to keep the workforce (especially the resistors) in the loop along the way.

George Bernard Shaw said, “Progress is impossible without change.” Even if your business is making difficult changes, you’ll gain employee support and make the process go more smoothly by being open, honest and sincere. Have a comprehensive plan for change and design the plan through the lens of those effected by the change. And anticipate the resistors!

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