You're introducing a new change to your business, be it implementing a new organizational structure or system, or revamping existing processes. The change is expected to increase productivity, reduce cost, and increase employee engagement. Sound familiar? Most of your employees are eager to adopt the new change; however, there are a few people who are adamantly resisting. Why should you spend time engaging these resisters? How can you get them to become adopters, if not proponents of the change?
A recent study¹ looked at how well managers perform in times of organizational change. The study polled employees on the effectiveness of their managers across five key roles: communicator, advocate, coach, liaison, and resistance manager. It showed that managers struggled most with being a resistance manager. Why is that?
For one, the incentives for managers to deal with resisters may be misaligned. Their main priority is to get people on board with the new changes…and fast! Therefore, they may spend most of their time with the people who are eager to adopt the change, leading to a false understanding of how the organization is perceiving and embracing the change. Instead of incentivizing managers to drive speed of adoption, try rewarding them to achieve high adoption rates - and measure progress using pulse surveys. This change will help promote desired behaviors, resulting in more effective resistance management.
Another reason many managers struggle is the desire to avoid confrontation. Depending on the organizational culture, it may be "taboo" for managers to challenge dissenting employees (and vice versa).
Organizations that do not effectively manage resistance will find themselves dealing with a host of problems: suboptimal performance, decreased employee morale, and, if the resisters influence other employees, the change may be rejected all together. Learning to effectively address and manage employee resistance is therefore a critical component to ensuring a successful change effort.
To combat these potential outcomes, managers need to engage resisters, not avoid them. West Monroe has worked with managers in organizations large and small to overcome these hurdles and recommends the following key activities to turn change resisters into change advocates:
Create open forums to discuss change: To be effective at curbing anxiety or mistrust around change, managers need to know the root cause of the resistance. Try creating a forum where employees can openly discuss the impacts change is having on them. Set clear expectations so the forum is productive, not a “pity party.” In this environment, managers can solicit honest feedback from employees and turn insights into action, benefiting both parties. Involvement and honesty can go a long way towards helping employees adopt change.
Set up a diversified change network: When used correctly, change networks are a great asset to any change management initiative. The key in creating a strong change network is to recruit people who represent all stakeholder groups impacted by the change. Varied experiences and relationships to the change will provide your team with a solid representation of the entire organization. If set up successfully, managers will have insight into three key areas: (1) how each identified stakeholder group will be impacted, (2) how different roles are reacting to the change and (3) how to create effective interaction and influence across the organization. Ease for the end user is paramount in any change initiative, and setting up a strong change network can give a manager the information necessary to make it happen.
Make the change relatable: Often, people are resistant to change not because they don't support it, but because they don't fully understand it. Managers need to work hard to acknowledge those defense mechanisms exist and think creatively to work through them. Use terms and explanations of the future state that employees understand and can "sink their teeth into." Once they become aware of what is really changing and understand the expectations, employees can begin to accept and commit to the change.
Managing resistance is critically important to any change initiative. However, as described above, it doesn't always come easy. Involvement, honesty, openness, and relatability are all traits that managers should keep in mind when dealing with resistant employees. A team is only as strong as its largest detractors; invest time to work on your resistance management skills and reap the benefits.
¹"Manager/Supervisor's Role in Change Management." Prosci, n.d. Web. 20 Dec. 2016.
I am even more accessible than the other modals.