June 8

Resistance to Change: An Obstacle That Can Be Overcome

By Chuck Coker

Behavioral studies indicate the vast majority of employees are resistant to change. They will small changes as well as large ones. People will resist the change of the color of their office walls just as strongly as they resist a reorganization that might threaten their job.

Even top management is not immune. Executives resist office relocation and shifts in job responsibility with a vigor equal to that of their subordinates to comparable change.

Management of change is an area of general concern. Most management seminars and business courses treat the subject fully, and it appears regularly in seminars and published business material.

The attention is not misplaced. Surprised managers repeatedly face an unexpected rebellion by individuals and groups over alterations that seem minor. But to those affected, the threat of change is real, even though the reactions seem disproportionately strong to those in charge.

Any time work procedures, physical surroundings, or traditions are to be altered, managers instituting the change should expect the people involved will be suspicious. They must anticipate the complaints and know how to prevent or minimize them.

Surprise, sudden announcements, or unexpected developments throw people off balance. When people feel unprepared and out of control, resistance seems the only means of coping.

Psychological effects of change

How does change affect employees psychologically? Most employees wonder if they will lose their job. Any change in the structure of the department or management will cause worry.

Many employees wonder if they will be able to handle the possibly difficult or “impossible” changes in equipment, facilities, etc.

Almost 40% of the employee base will be concerned about having to change the way they do things. People are fond of their work habits. Interference with traditional practices may cause discomfort.

Almost everyone wonders if new people within the department will lessen their possibility of promotion or advancement.

Change always begs the question of “Does this mean more, harder or less desirable work for me?”

Change always brings about rumors – most especially “will my job be affected or lost?” Job security is often the economic and psychological foundation of employee well being. Any shake-up becomes a major concern.

Initiating successful change

Most psychologists and behavioral experts agree that a minimum of 54% of the population is directly opposed to change. As much as another 20% will be “change-resistant” unless they see a direct benefit to them.

It is crucial that the employees being affected by the change be given adequate notice and prepared for the change.

You must “market” the change the same way you market your product or services. Remember, your employees can be the best advertisement or hindrance to your corporate success. You should:

  1. Develop Cooperation. In the earliest planning stage, keep in mind the need to get the cooperation of those who will be affected. Part of the planning should include ways of minimizing trauma.
  2. Announce the Changes. This does not necessarily need to be a formal notice but should inform employees individually or in small groups of the general plan. Explaining the need and reason for the change is important.
  3. Encourage Participation. In most cases those who will implement the change or innovation should become involved by giving ideas, pointing out possible complications, offering suggestions, and taking on some of the planning responsibility.
  4. Maximize Acceptance. You can minimize employee resistance by promoting the favorable factors that make the change desirable. Don’t use a negative approach.
  5. Institute a Monitoring Process. You can overcome doubts and suspicion by encouraging employees’ questions and monitoring. Executives and their designees should be poised to ensure the plans go as anticipated and unexpected challenges are dealt with.
  6. Encourage Collaboration. Any remnants of resistance will show up in the form of individuals dragging their feet or passive-aggressive behavior. That behavior can be significant enough to get the monitor’s full attention. The monitor should work to bring the individual into the process in a win-win scenario.
  7. Follow-up. Some changes get started and just keep rolling along to everyone’s satisfaction. But it’s wise to schedule a review to make sure the new method is being used as planned, and that backsliding is not undercutting the effort.

An important part of the follow up is a comparison of actual to projected performance expectations. If the results aren’t there, the whole purpose of the change may be lost. The original planning may have to be second-guessed, and readjustments made. And, of course, if results are on target or better, compliments are due to the planners.

About the author 

Chuck Coker

For more than 30 years, Chuck has focused his career on people's development. He has implemented proprietary Personal Formation, Human Capital, Talent Management, and incentive-based programs across a broad scope of Fortune Companies, regional organizations, and educational institutions.


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