Roll with the changes

Steve Cesare

Regardless of the change you might be considering, the issue of employee resistance quickly becomes the topic of delicate discussion. Successful change management is eventually based on the company’s ability to anticipate, address and overcome inevitable employee resistance.

Resistance to change can occur at all levels of the company. No matter the focus, it is in management’s best interests to understand the legitimate source of the resistance before it establishes a new program, procedure or plan. Here are the most common sources of resistance to change:

  • Habit. Most employees are creatures of habit and are reluctant to learn something new. This creates complacency, preventing employee growth.
  • Fear of the unknown. By definition, change implies uncertainty, which in many cases causes generic apprehension about what the new program will be like.
  • Fear of loss. Any disruption to an employee’s work equilibrium may be interpreted as a potential loss of power, money, or status; all of which are primary motivators employees try to sustain.
  • Fear of failure. Employees do not want to fail. By introducing novelty into their work life, they are forced to elevate their effort simply to maintain satisfactory job performance.
  • Resistant culture. Most organizations are bound by tradition, stability, and norms such that employees may not have sufficient trust in the company to believe it is capable of changing its indelible ways.
  • Local determinism. Many companies erroneously believe that change initiatives can be implemented in isolation, when in fact many organizational processes are inter-related with other indirect aspects of the company that can create resistance.

Resistance. Overcoming resistance to change cannot be done as a “cookie cutter” approach. It must be done in a manner tailored to the company, the specific change initiative and the employees who will be affected by it. The most common methods for overcoming resistance to change are summarized below:

  • Communication. The best way to diminish employees’ fears of change is through active, continual, and honest communication regarding the reason for the change, the nature of the change, and its beneficial results. A series of group meetings, memos, emails, payroll stuffers, one-on-one sessions and postings should always be done well in advance of the change.
  • Participation. It is exceedingly wise to involve a representative sample of employees likely to be affected by the change into the design of the actual program. This creates empowerment, ownership and decision making in the program details.
  • Facilitation. Companies should provide ample support for employees to ensure efficient adoption. This can take the form of training, a balanced transition period, and non-judgmental coaching to underscore the employees’ ability to deal with the stress of adapting to the new initiative.
  • Negotiation. While not optimal, some companies overcome resistance through negotiation with affected employees. This type of give and take may tactically diminish the company’s position by dealing with tangible employee conflict, though strategically ensuring the adoption of the company’s change program.
  • Manipulation. This method for overcoming resistance to change leverages organizational politics, informal leaders, and deal making that are likely handled behind closed doors, implying co-optation and forming alliances necessary to implement the change initiative.
  • Coercion. The final and most extreme method for overcoming resistance to change is the use of force, threats or power. Lamentably, some companies effect change by simply dictating that failure to adopt the change program will result in demotion, pay cut, or reassignment.

Approach. Companies must never underestimate employee resistance to change. They should reward a change-oriented culture, promote ongoing discussions with employees and inherently rely on employee participation in all change management interventions. Failure to do so will likely impede the success of the change management initiative, the company culture and the company itself. L&L

Steve Cesare is an industrial psychologist with the Harvest Group, a landscape consulting group.;



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August 2013
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