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Managing Resistance to Organizational Change

Blog: Good eLearning

It’s common knowledge that if there’s one thing in life and business that never changes, it’s the inevitability of change. Organizations need to evolve in order to compete and reach new heights, and having a structured approach to managing change, even in the event of unexpected challenges, is just another part of ensuring your business can survive and thrive.

Unfortunately, no matter what shape a change initiative takes, it is almost guaranteed to create opposition. Humans are creatures of habit, and there’s a high likelihood that numerous parties in a business will cling to the status quo for one reason or another, whether for the sake of ease or because they feel their interests are being threatened.

If a change initiative is handled poorly, it is likely to generate even more resistance from those at different levels of a business, including employees, managers, executives, and high-level stakeholders. This can end up creating roadblocks for the initiative or may even limit the resulting benefits.

As such, change management frameworks such as APMG Change Management and AgileSHIFT place a great deal of emphasis on managing resistance to change. This is also true for many of the world’s leading change and transformation management specialists.

But given how diverse resistance can be, what is the best way to equip your company to deal with it? In this article, we look at proven methods and insight for managing resistance to change.

Why do people resist change in business?

There’s a simple answer to this question: because change ultimately affects people

Any large-scale business transformation project is virtually guaranteed to impact those who keep the business running. Even if there are no tangible effects, it can still create backlash due to people’s perceptions or concerns over what is happening.

Some of the most common reasons include:

How to manage resistance to change

Unfortunately, resistance to change in some form or another is often inevitable. The mistake that many companies make is treating this as an excuse to simply force the changes through, treating any collateral damage as “just the price of doing business”.

It hardly takes a paradigm-breaking thought leader to explain why this idea is full of holes. In truth, simply taking a more structured approach to planning, implementing, and reinforcing change can have tremendous benefits in terms of alleviating resistance to and enhancing the results of organizational transformation.

Luckily, ‘Change Management’ as a well-defined discipline is becoming far more widespread, and there are several demonstrably effective frameworks associated with it. These include:

Both frameworks offer valuable best practices for encouraging and enabling changes, but what are the actual processes involved in managing resistance?

In a 1979 article (recently republished and updated in 2018), ‘Choosing Strategies for Change’, Leonard Schlesinger and John Kotter outlined six ways to manage resistance to change:

Schlesinger and Kotter state: “Many managers underestimate not only the variety of ways people can react to organizational change but also the ways they can positively influence specific individuals and groups during a change. And, again, because of past experiences, managers sometimes do not have an accurate understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of the methods with which they are familiar.”

Obviously, a lot has changed since 1979, but this insight still holds true. Most change management frameworks continue to emphasize the importance of communicating with employees and letting them know how they can expect to benefit from changes and why their fears are misguided. The same goes for facilitating and supporting employees to alleviate the stress and difficulties of coping with the change. Negotiation, too, is crucial, especially with stakeholders who have the power to end initiatives outright. For all parties, change benefits need to be explained in terms that resonate with their own particular goals.

How can I be prepared for resistance to change?

It is worth keeping in mind that change is a complex organism. Initiatives involve varied and complex factors each and every time, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. 

As the article says: “In approaching an organizational change situation, managers explicitly or implicitly make strategic choices regarding the speed of the effort, the amount of preplanning, the involvement of others, and the relative emphasis they will give to different approaches. Successful change efforts seem to be those where these choices both are internally consistent and fit some key situational variables.”

In other words, being aware of the options open to you and knowing which variables to consider will be your best approach. For many, this means studying and adopting a change management framework or simply creating one that suits your business and developing it further with each iteration (being careful to learn from mistakes along the way).

Resistance can be difficult to deal with, but it can be dealt with. You simply need to be proactive with planning, ensuring the change takes nobody by surprise. You should also work to alleviate fears and concerns as soon as possible by predicting where resistance will come from and taking the necessary steps to deal with it. Most importantly, you must continue to reinforce the change, even once an initiative has been completed, to ensure that everything sticks.

Interested in learning more about change management? Visit the Good e-Learning website to take a look at our Change Management and AgileSHIFT courses, or contact a member of our team today!

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