Change can seem irrevocably linked with resistance. We expect change to be hard and it can be. There is lots of advice on how to manage resistance to change. But is this a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted? Are you falling in to the trap of creating an environment where resistance can thrive?
Resistance to change centres around our loss of certainty and control. Is my job safe? Will I still be able to do my job well? Will I ‘fit’ in this new team? Not again! How can I manage all of this? These are scary, unsettling thoughts and questions. The environment you create through your change programme will influence the extent to which people get stuck in this dialogue. This simple list of Dos and Don’ts can be used to give your change planning a quick health check.
Don't assume that change that impacts on jobs means you can’t involve people early.
Do be as open as you can be about the why and how. You are in danger of eroding trust among all staff if you do all the thinking behind the scenes when you are working on a restructure. Being treated with respect is top of the list of keeping everyone engaged. Failure to do this will leave the ripples of resistance echoing far beyond the changes and increase the likelihood of resistance to future initiatives.
Don't believe you have to have the answers to all the questions before you start communicating.
Do let people know what they can expect when. Broad timeframes with milestones are better than detailed information from the word go. This will allow people to be properly engaged in the programme from the start. That involvement will reduce the tendency towards resistance.
Don't denigrate the past.
Do focus on the positive impacts for the future. If your message focusses heavily on moving away from a negative position, loyal and hardworking staff will feel disengaged and less likely to support the change effort.
Don't keep hitting the same team with change after change.
Do take a long term view of what is needed and check across your change portfolio who this will impact. If you know your change programme will take time and involve multiple consecutive projects be up front about this and make sure you put support and resource in place to avoid change fatigue and resistance. Maintaining focus on the overarching vision and energy for why this is so important will help to keep people motivated on the end goal.
Don't assume people can manage the change on top of their day jobs.
Do make sure staff who have to take on responsibilities for designing and/or implementing change on top of their day to day responsibilities have sufficient support and can make the space to do this. Help them to delegate duties. Reward their efforts. Bring in additional resource if needed. Nothing breeds resistance more than assuming great staff will just keep taking on more and more without complaint.
Don't ignore painful memories from the past.
Do provide people with support and give them the space to be heard if they have had negative experiences of change in the past. Commit and visibly demonstrate how and why this will be different. Keep listening.
Don't focus purely on the business benefits without recognising the people impact.
Do be as honest, open and transparent as possible and, if your change programme involves changes that will genuinely hurt some staff, act quickly. Provide support and give people a good ‘ending’ if the change means they will be exiting their current role.
There will always be a variety of responses to change but these don’t always have to be negative and we shouldn’t enter a change programme with resistance as an expectation. Managing resistance once it has manifested is much more time consuming and challenging that mitigating it from the start of your programme. By consciously involving and engaging those impacted by the changes, listening to what’s important to them and providing training and support throughout and beyond the programme you can build a culture where change is seen as a positive evolution of your organisation.
If you have found this post useful please do share it in your networks. If you are struggling with resistance to your change programme and would like to talk through the issues, please get in touch.
Caroline Doran, Founder of Deliver Grow Ltd, works with busy, passionate leaders in non-profit organisations to help them successfully deliver the change they want to see in their organisations.