How to Overcome Your Team’s Resistance to Change

Change Resistance LeadershipNo one likes change. It can be messy, difficult, and stressful. Whether it’s in our personal or professional life, we may find ourselves or our teams avoiding it. But if we want our company and departments to grow and achieve their targets, we need to find a way to overcome this resistance.

In order for us or our employees to implement any change initiative, there has to be commitment. Commitment only comes with acceptance. As a leader, we have to showcase how this change will be worth our employee’s time (acceptance) so they can commit to it.

Sometimes as leaders, we forget that our view of change may be different than our team’s view. We may see that implementing a new marketing automation tool may be extremely beneficial to streamlining our marketing efforts, but the marketing team may wonder if this means they will lose their jobs. Or we may want to implement more customer service tools like instant chat or extended hours of service which we know will give us a leg up on our competitors, but our employees only see longer work hours and less flexibility. 

For many employees, there is a knee-jerk reaction to any change because they most likely have experienced negative outcomes from a change in the past. Maybe their past company implemented similar marketing strategies or customer service tools and it truly did lead to layoffs or more work.

To minimize the possibility of failure in our change efforts, we must start by putting ourselves in our employees’ shoes. They may resist change for various reasons, such as:

  • Established work agreement-  When employees start a new job we provide them with a description of their roles, tasks, and goals. They become comfortable in completing their tasks in a certain way and feel confident they can achieve the established goals. They have created a “routine” and having a routine is comforting and makes them feel their jobs are safe. If the change being proposed alters their routine (i.e. new goals, processes or tasks), they may resist the change just because it makes them feel unsure of their role and value to the company.
  • Baseless Assumptions- Company grapevines are alive and well in most organizations. Information shared through the grapevine are likely to be incomplete or only partially correct and this will cause employees to come up with their own conclusions about how this change will affect them, their fellow team members, and their workload. As employees begin to share bits and pieces of what they’ve “heard,” the misperceptions and assumptions will grow to cause even anxiety and resistance.
  • Pessimism about Possible Outcomes-   If, as stated above, the grapevine is responsible for sharing the change, then employees can only be pessimistic about the end results of the change.
  • Perceived Lack of Skills or Knowledge- If employees aren’t sure of the skills or knowledge necessary in implementing this new change, they will be resistant.

Beyond handling your employees’ resistance, you need to be aware of other obstacles, such as:

  • Virtual Work Teams/units – If you manage a telecommuting team or have remote workers (i.e. employees working out of various offices throughout the US or the globe), you may find that your team doesn’t feel a strong connection to you or the rest of the team. As mentioned earlier, commitment is necessary for successful change management. But the challenge for these workers may go beyond not feeling connected. They may also be wary of change because they have seen that many workers are “out of sight, out of mind” meaning that it’s easier to overlook them or lay them off because they aren’t physically present.
  • Lack of Management Support– If one or more executive leaders aren’t fully supporting the change, it will be difficult to gain momentum and support from your team. Understanding resistance from every level and coming up with solutions to the concerns will be key to ensuring the change initiative is successful.
  • Company Policies that Hinder Change – If you have a company policy that doesn’t support this change (i.e. bonus structure tied to the prior goals), resistance will continue. Company policies must be reviewed to ensure they support the change when it occurs.

How do we overcome resistance to change?

Create a Strong Discovery Process- Understand which departments or employees will be affected by the change. Find out exactly what is changing and how it will impact the work in the short, mid, and long term. Outline how the change will make the work easier, faster, improve workflow, or improve company results (i.e. sales, customer service, etc.). If you can’t directly ask the affected employees to be part of the change initiative, engage their supervisor to some degree in the discovery phase.

Communicate the Goals and  Expected Outcomes-  Explain clearly why the change is happening, what is changing and the timelines for the change. Outline the expected/anticipated outcomes and why this is so powerful for the success of the organization and the team. Make sure that if employees are negatively impacted (i.e. laid off, location change, etc.), that you provide as clear, correct information. Employees who expected their work to remain the same, who were pessimistic about the possible outcomes, or who formed baseless assumptions will no longer have this to add to their resistance.

Provide Training and Coaching- If the change does require an upgrade in skills, knowledge or both, make sure to provide training so the affected employees can gain back their confidence in their ability to contribute. Make sure the training is before the roll-out and provide after roll-out support whether it’s in the form of coaching from the manager, follow up classes, an online knowledge base, community forums, or conference calls.

Express Positive Emotions Be passionate about the positive outcomes of this change. Share your enthusiasm with your employees, but don’t lack empathy either. Stay attuned to their feelings of discomfort, insecurity, or fear. Change is hard for all of us. As a leader and manager, you are responsible for ensuring your employees can successfully take on this change.

Change isn’t easy, but for our company’s growth as well as our personal growth, we must be willing to take on change regularly. By understanding the obstacles to change and putting some plans into place to combat this, you’ll soon see resistance to change diminish and the success of your initiative increase.

Do you have any other tips you’ve used to successfully manage a change initiative? What other obstacles have you faced when introducing a change and how did you deal with it?




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