Resistance to change or acceptance of it: actions that matter most.
Everyone knows change is hard and the most difficult part of any change effort is obtaining buy-in. Relatively speaking, it is often the change itself—new software, new organization charts or new work methodologies—that is the easiest to manage. The more difficult part of change is building buy-in, channeling shifts in behavior and accelerating acceptance.
Peter Senge was right, “People don’t resist change, they resist being changed.” Change can cause fear or discomfort when people are asked to stretch out of their comfort zones. In addition, it often requires incremental work—time to learn new concepts, build new skills or adopt new approaches. This worry, unease or extra effort can result in a wave of push-back or skepticism about the change and its value.
Given these challenges, it’s helpful to realize that the reasons people resist change are often not about the changes themselves, but about the implications of the change. The six surprising reasons people resist include the following:
People want clear future direction. Sometimes changes to systems or approaches in the way work will get done can make people question the direction or the future of the company. If there are job cuts, is the organization still viable overall? If changes are occurring in an enterprise management system, will customers still be adequately served to ensure success in the organization? In order to accept change more easily, people will benefit from understanding the overall reasons for the change—the why—and how the changes support the purpose and long-term mission of the company. They will also need to understand the expected positive impact of the change and why it will be worth the effort. Leadership must be visible as they share this kind of information. They must also be accessible in order to answer questions and they must model the way—demonstrating acceptance of the change through their own behaviors.
People want control and autonomy. In addition to having plenty of clarity from leadership, people also want to know they are empowered. When things change in the company, people may perceive they will lose control of the way they work, of their options or of their performance. In fact, one of the number one concerns people have about change is whether it will negatively impact their ability to get their work done and achieve results. Control at work is associated with greater effectiveness and even improved physical wellbeing. Increase acceptance for the change by giving people back as much control as possible. For example, the new enterprise software system may be non-negotiable, but it may be possible for teams to customize its implementation. The new workplace design may be a given, but it may be possible to give people more choice about where they work throughout the day.
People want to save face. Employees naturally have a stake in the current state and many of them may have helped create it by making decisions about or participating in previous implementations. Increase acceptability of changes by reassuring people that the past isn’t bad or wrong. In fact, previous decisions were likely made with the best possible information available at the time. Work moves fast—usually faster than systems or workplaces can move—so let people know new information and new situations are driving the changes being implemented today.
People want security. Neurologically, humans want to reduce threats and achieve security. When changes occur in an organization, they may wonder about the bigger picture or about potential implications. For example, will the change in organizational structure result in job cuts? Will the shifts in the sales management system impact their own performance if they can’t learn it fast enough? Reduce resistance to change by letting people know why the change is occurring in terms of business objectives, and reassuring people as much as possible given the true implications of decisions. Respond to the underlying concerns they may have about the changes taking place.
People want to be competent. New systems can be upsetting to people because they worry their competence will be challenged. They have likely achieved success in the current system and may worry their ability to perform will be negatively impacted in the new system. Reassure people that they will receive the necessary support to develop their skills and time to learn new approaches without negative repercussions.
People want connections with others. No matter their personality preferences, employees need both time alone and time together with coworkers. They need a sense of connection and positive relationships with colleagues. When change occurs, they may have questions about how their work with others will shift. For example, will an organizational restructure separate them from their teammates? Will a change in the workplace still allow people to sit near their friends? Reassure people about the value of relationships and collegiality by showing them ways they’ll still be able to connect, despite other shifts that may be occurring.
Companies can mistake a lack of understanding about a change with a lack of agreement. Simply communicating more or deluging people with the same information ad nauseum won’t help increase acceptance. The most effective change management requires an understanding of the root-cause issues driving resistance. Future direction, autonomy, saving face, security, competence and connections—all of these are concerns which may prevent people from embracing change. Understand the issues, clarify messages and reassure employees in order to motivate change and drive positive outcomes.