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By: Ber Leary on March 30th, 2021

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How to Overcome Your Employee's Resistance to Change

Business Management & Strategy

Change has been the only constant in recent months, as everyone tries to adapt to remote work, Zoom meetings, and social distancing practices. It’s been an unprecedented strain, and most people feel like they’ve had enough change to last a lifetime.  

Yet businesses can’t afford to stand still for a moment. Every thriving company has an active pipeline of change projects that will hopefully improve efficiency and unlock new opportunities. Many of these projects will even make life easier for staff by eliminating cumbersome processes. 

Despite this, companies often face grassroots resistance to change management projectsSometimes this conflict takes the form of open hostility, but it more commonly manifests as a lack of engagement: employees simply ignore the new processes or don’t make use of the new system. In the end, 70% of change projects fail to meet targets, and much of this is due to employee pushback. 

So, how do you get these people on board?  

Why people resist change 

Resistance to change can sometimes seem like a form of apathy, especially if the issue is a lack of engagement. But when you talk to people and dig deeper, you’ll often find more serious underlying issues.   

The more common drivers of resistance to change include:  

  • Fear of obsolescence: When you streamline or automate a process, you also reduce the amount of available work. This sometimes makes people fearful for their long-term job security.  
  • Power of habitHabit is remarkably potentMany people would rather stick with a familiar routine than try something new, even if they’re highly dissatisfied with the current routine.  
  • Lack of support: We’ve all had the experience of having to figure out a new system or process on our own because nobody trained us. If change projects don’t have the right post-launch support, they’ll never be able to attain employee engagement.  
  • Uncertain benefits: Change management projects usually offer tangible benefits, but these might not have been communicated to all staff. Or employees may have heard about how the business will benefit, but they don’t see how it will improve their role 

Understanding employee concerns is the first step in tackling resistance to change and driving engagement. If you know why they’re resisting, you can build a change management strategy that wins them over. You may even turn them into project champions.  

How to overcome resistance to change at work

Experienced change managers are never surprised by resistance to change. They assume that there will be some pushback, and they take proactive steps to minimize it.  

To ensure that everyone gets on board, follow these steps:  

1. Run a focus group 

It’s useful to take the temperature among staff before you start a change project. If you have a large staff, you might consider hosting a small focus group with a representative sample of employees.  

Talk through the proposal with employees, and explain key project details such as: 

  • Why the change is necessary 
  • How the change benefits the company 
  • What it all means for each employee 
  • How employees will benefit from the change 
  • How you plan to roll out the project 
  • The training and support that will be on offer 

Next, it’s essential to listen to what your focus group says. Ask them questions like:  

  • What do you like or dislike about the current process? 
  • Can you identify ways that the new process helps you?  
  • Do you think your colleagues will find the new process difficult to learn?  
  • Can you see potential issues with this new process that may have escaped our attention 

This kind of feedback is an important part of change management. It’s your first clear glimpse of how the project will look when it goes live.  

2. Win over change champions 

Change works best when you have local champions who can offer support and encouragement. Managers and elite employees make great champions, as they already have the trust of their teams 

Unfortunately, you can’t just appoint a champion, especially if there’s been resistance to change in the past. A champion has to understand the project and feel passionate about it. If you can win them over by talking about the project’s benefitsit will be easier for them to win over others.  

Remember also to keep them in the loop about all project updates. If they're aware of all developments, you could undermine their ability to engage their colleagues.  

3. Take an iterative approach to change 

Change managers and general employees each have a completely different perspective on new processes. The change manager is focused on project delivery and hitting their milestones. Employees are focused on day-to-day work, and they want to avoid anything that might cause disruption.  

An iterative approach can provide a balance between these two perspectives. Rather than launch a huge project at once, you could break it into a series of smaller changes. This can help employees who are feeling overwhelmed by change.  

It also gives you a chance to measure and refine your change strategy as you go along. Each iteration will help you establish that the project is on the right track.   

4. Engage and empathize 

Change management involves endless communication – with stakeholders, with consultants, with vendors. It’s hard to find time to communicate with employees every step of the way, but this is essential for successful engagement.  

Remember, communication is a two-way process. People should be able to offer suggestions and feedback, and they should receive meaningful responses. If you engage with people during the change management project, they’ll repay you by showing greater engagement after the project goes live 

Empathy is also a vital tool. Try to really understand how this project impacts workers and why that might lead to resistance to change. By sharing ongoing details of the project, you’ll also encourage them to empathize with you.  

5. Bring in an expert 

Change management doesn’t have to be a DIY thing. In fact, many companies lean on outside consultants to help deliver projects and meet ROI targets.  

If you’re bringing in an expert, it’s best to do so sooner rather than later. Experienced change management consultants know how to get projects started on the right foot. A good start will ensure employee engagement in the long run, and ultimately help to create real change.

Schedule an exploratory call with our change management consultants if you want to learn more about how we would approach your business's change management initiatives.