Haunted by Resistance: Overcoming Resistance to Change in Your Organisation

Date: 24/10/2023| Category: Change Management|

However you put it, every change has its resistance. As human beings, we are conditioned to prefer stability and safety over change and disruption. These reactions to stress derive from our primal instincts of ‘fight or flight’ as a default survival mechanism. Any change, including organisational change, never happens in a vacuum. It has an effect on all those involved and where it encounters friction, it will slow and eventually stop.

However, an organisation, now more than ever, is constantly required to change to be able to compete in the current business environment. In an uncertain environment, the only sure thing is that organisations and its people will have to do things differently than they did before.

Organisational transformation

To survive and remain relevant in the ever more digital environment, organisational transformation is necessary. This completely depends on how leaders envision, establish and continually communicate a compelling case for change.

Organisational transformation should forge a new path to reinvent the organisation and discover a new or revised business model based on an improved way of working. This cannot just be a top down vision, the need for change needs to come from everyone in the organisation. Effective change really begins when people understand and know why something new is needed. How long the change is to occur and that they are part of the change. To truly engage with stakeholders, leaders must make:

  • Employees feel the change is critical (where are we now?)
  • Help employees understand the vision (where do we want to be?)
  • Make sure that employees know and actively participate in the change process (how do we get there?)

Making employees an active part of the change however will also accumulate a lot more active change resistance.

Understanding change resistance

Change resistance is a natural reaction that occurs when individuals encounter significant changes. The origins of change resistance can be diverse but understanding these is essential for any change initiative. It should also be noted that resistance is not always detrimental, some actually leads to constructive feedback and improvement in the change initiative.

Some common origins of change resistance are:

  • Fear of the Unknown: Change typically introduces uncertainty. Employees often fear the unknown and this fear can lead to resistance. When individuals are uncertain about how a change will impact them, they may resist it to maintain their sense of security.
  • Loss of Control: When the control, autonomy and decision-making are being compromised, employees may resist the change to maintain their sense of control.
  • Comfort with the Status Quo: Change disrupts routines and resistance can be a way to preserve the familiar and the comfortable.
  • Perceived Risk: Employees may resist change if they believe it will result in negative consequences for them, such as job insecurity or increased workload.
  • Lack of Information: Inadequate communication and information about the change can lead to resistance. When employees do not understand why the change is happening or how it will affect them, they are more likely to resist it.
  • Cultural and Structural Barriers: A culture that discourages change or a structure that is resistant to new ideas can make it difficult to implement change successfully.
  • Past Negative Experiences: Previous experiences with unsuccessful changes can lead to resistance. If employees experienced poorly managed changes in the past, they may be reluctant to embrace new changes.

Overcoming change resistance

How to deal with change resistance will define the outcome of the change initiative. Whoever leads the change initiative, needs to be able to withstand strong pressures and the emotionally charged situations of change resistance. An important skill for supporting effective transformation and change initiatives is ‘emotional resilience’; the ability to recover quickly and return to the state of nature.

There are some key strategies that will help the change to be accepted by all stakeholders.

  • Effective communication: clearly communicate the reasons for the change and provide a vision of the future state and its benefits.
  • Change engagement and participation: Involve employees in the change process and always encourage feedback and suggestions. This increases the change engagement and willingness to adapt.
  • Education and training: ensure that employees have the necessary skills to adapt to the change and provide training programmes and resources to help them adapt.
  • Address concerns: actively listen to concerns and address them promptly, provide information and reassurance.
  • Rewards and incentives: offer rewards and/or recognition for embracing the change. Make sure you create a motivation for supporting the change.
  • Gradual implementation: implement changes incrementally to minimise disruption and allow time for adaptation.
  • Clear leadership and role modelling: leaders should exemplify the desired behaviours and show their commitment to the change
  • Transparency: be transparent about the progress and challenges of the change and share both the successes and setbacks.
  • Change agents: identify and empower change agents within the organisation that can influence and inspire others.

Agile change agents vs resistance to change

A broad network of people who can initiate and support change processes can help make change more effective. These people are called change agents and understand the need for change. Agile change agents have the competences necessary to effectively support people in implementing new solutions.

These individuals come from different levels of the organisation, performing different tasks on a daily basis They include leaders, heads of organisational units, domain experts, specialists, project team members, consultants. A change agent understands naturally occurring resistance and is able to offer support to those experiencing change.

Successful agents for change must be familiar with basic learning concepts as organisational change can continually force participants (customers or colleagues) to adapt to new situations and continually learn new ways of doing things. This involves stepping out of one’s comfort zone, giving rise to a periodic sense of decline in effectiveness and confidence levels.

The role of the Agile Change Agent in preparing people to deal with these periodic states is invaluable. It is precisely this attitude and working atmosphere that enables some organisations to adapt more effectively in response to the pressure of frequent changes in the environment.

Embracing change (and resistance)

In the dynamic business world, embracing change is not a choice but a necessity for growth and resilience. Organisational change is vital for survival in today’s business environment.

For a change initiative to be successful, it requires effective leadership and employee involvement. Whatever change initiative is put in place, there will be change resistance. Change resistance is a natural reaction to uncertainty and disruption that can be caused by both internal and external factors. Understanding the sources of resistance for change, such as fear of the unknown and loss of control, is crucial.

Overcoming resistance involves clear communication, involvement, education, addressing #concerns, and change agents. These agile change agents facilitate adaptation and help organisations thrive in the face of constant change.

QRP International organises Agile Change Agent training and can help you understand the practical application of effective agile and change management techniques. Training available in different formats.

Sources APMG: why is organisational change so challenging and Agile change agents rescue

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