It is human nature to resist what we see as different. Change requires that we work to learn a new set of rules, when the old rules may have suited us just fine. In reality, neither our personal nor professional lives will always be aligned with what we perceive to be comfortable. In other words, we are not the center of universe and the world does not revolve around our comfort levels. Circumstances outside of our control will occur that force us to adapt to new policies, new systems, and new sets of laws. In the very best situations our participation will be valued and our opinions will be sought giving us the opportunity to create the means that justify the end.
Individuals demonstrate their commitment to change through their deeds and actions. Strong managers solicit staff participation to build buy-in and to make sure that the affects of the proposed changes are vetted to avoid system breakdowns. Non-management employees can demonstrate their buy-in by educating themselves about the process, seeking ways to build consensus, giving and receiving feedback, and communicating their concerns to peers and management constructively.
Many theories attempt to explain why employees resist change even when it is obvious that change is necessary for an organization’s survival. Resistance to change can be averted via:
- Commitment: From the CEO to the janitor, every employee must be committed to the change plan. That commitment begins at the top; hence the organization’s leadership must be especially attuned to successful implementation. One naysayer on the leadership team can ruin the entire process.
- A change mandate: Change can not be a choice. With gentle respect it must be made clear that change is not an option, it is a requirement.
- Input: Anyone who will be affected by the impending changes must be given the opportunity to voice his or her opinion in a respectful and collegial setting.
- Accountability: Every person affected by the change program must be held responsible for implementing his or her individual change activity. Not meeting that responsibility must carry consequences.
- Rewards and celebration: Successful implementation should be acknowledged via compensation and/or recognition. The organization as a whole should commemorate the successful implementation of the change program as well.
- Evaluation: Examining the success of the implementation at planned intervals is a strategic decision designed to gauge success over time and make corrections for unanticipated consequences.
Overlooking any one of the items above reduces the chance of successfully implementing a change program.
When change occurs, the relationship (“personal compact”) between employers and employees suffer. This “personal compact” has three prongs – formal, social, and psychological.
- The formal compact: Captures basic tasks and performance requirements as defined by company documents such as job descriptions, employment contracts, and performance agreements.
- The psychological compact: Incorporates feelings such as trust and dependence between employee and employer, which is the foundation of an employee’s personal commitment to individual and company objectives.
- The social compact: Includes employees’ perceptions about the culture of the organization and their chances for success.
Change destabilizes the foundation upon which the employer/employee relationship (“personal compact”) is built. It is this uncomfortable shift in organizational dynamics (social, formal and psychological) that causes resistance to change, not simply the launch of new ideas or different ways of conducting business.
Once the change program is announced, many employees will employ tactics to protect themselves, their turf, and ultimately their place in the organization.
- Argumentative: Some employees will aggressively challenge the necessity for change. This is a time waster, which prevents critical objectives from being met. Every person who facilitates the change process must work diligently to build consensus. The employee must be assured that every idea is worthy of consideration. Should an exchange devolve into broad proclamations such as, “I just don’t like it”, “This will never work”, or “This is a waste of time” the speaker must be challenged. Simply ask the speaker to explain why he or she feels the way they do and ask for three or four suggestions for making the process work.
- Avoidance: Some managers and members of the leadership team will avoid change by subtlety refusing to commit to the process. Often these leaders will sabotage the change effort by being unavailable for meetings, denying resources, or withholding feedback. “The leadership” is a particularly difficult foe, because change efforts often require the use of resources managed by the leadership, such as time and money. Without these resources change efforts are likely to fail. Accountability with consequences is the primary means for assuring leadership participation.
- Distraction: Many employees and organizational leaders search for personal or professional diversions during the change process that will ultimately hinder the effort. A distracted individual can undermine the change effort by not being present physically or mentally when his or her critical input is needed. Not being mindful of change creates an unnecessarily difficult experience for every member of the team. Such carelessness calls to mind the wasted energy expended when one runs against the wind. Change efforts provide an opportunity for every one affected to secure a new place in the organization or make a decision to seek a better fit elsewhere.
Everyone who will be affected by the change process must participate in its implementation, which begins with soliciting ideas and input in the earliest planning stages.
Once identified, there are several strategies that can be used to overcome resistance to change within the organization. In order to maintain stability, all individuals must be treated with respect as they may have valuable knowledge to contribute and doing anything less may create even more resistance. At all stages of the change process, it is advisable to seek areas for agreement. Later these commonalities can be leveraged to encourage the opposition to join the team. It is also important to acknowledge and fully understand the nature of the resistance. This feedback will form the basis for strategies to deal with that resistance. When the majority of the organization is on board it is certainly worthwhile to hear and address the concerns of a few holdouts, which perpetuates the goal of maximum buy-in. Finally, resistance can be overcome by making sure that the change effort is communicated effectively in a multi-dimensional format. Adult learning theory supports the need to propagate messages that are seen, heard, and felt. By seeking consensus, acknowledging feedback, and communicating effectively, organizations can meet resistance successfully. Nevertheless, there will be individuals who cannot function in a changed organization. These men and women will always feel that the relationship (“personal compact”) with the employer has been broken.