Change resistant or resisting imposed change?

perspectives May 25, 2017

One of the most common complaints we hear from senior executives is that the people in their organisation are change resistant. This is evidenced by a lack of momentum on new projects and the regular questioning of new initiatives.

While in some instances people may be change resistant, our experience in working with people who have been labelled as change resistant is that it is more complicated than that.

Change resistant

What we have found is that people don’t fully engage in organisational change when the following conditions exist:

  • A feeling of not being engaged early in the process and being ‘manipulated’ to comply with ‘get on board’ messaging
  • A feeling that genuine concerns are being glossed over and that line managers and general staff will become responsible for owning or fixing problems that have been ignored by the project or wider organisation
  • A lack of clarity for why the organisation is going down this new journey, or for what it means to my role and my customers
  • A sense of cynicism behind the motives and intentions of the people taking the organisation on the journey
  • Overwhelm with the amount of new work required, in the face of a heavy existing workload and expectations
  • A belief that the change will actually make things worse rather than better (which can be true in the short term)
  • A shifting of power away from me or my functional unit to others (I will be worse off than before the change)
  • Feelings of self-doubt in my ability to be successful or safe in the new world

Becoming an adaptive culture doesn’t mean these challenges won’t exist – they exist in almost any culture and change initiative regardless of how mature the organisation. We have found that organisations who work through these challenges effectively have the capacity to identify the sources of resistance early in a change process. They then work with reasons behind “change resistance” to enable learning, sharing and ultimately adaptation.

The methods that adaptive organisations apply include:

  • Start from the belief that people aren’t change resistant – they simply resist change when they don’t feel a part of it, don’t understand it, or can’t see the benefits of it. This allows the possibility to engage with, rather than judge.
  • Create forums for the exchange of perspectives in relation to the change – allow the concerns to be heard in a respectful and constructive manner and ensure that the concerns are treated seriously. Treat these conversations as authentic learning opportunities, rather than tick the box exercises in “hearing concerns”.
  • Communicate at organisational, functional team and 1-1 level. Allow 2-way communication.
  • Get to the root cause – what do people fear the most if they were to fully embrace the change?
  • Make the change as graceful as possible by reducing the impact of cultural constraints or inhibitors.
  • Provide support for people to learn and become comfortable with new ways. This requires time, space, resources and tolerance for imperfection as the new learning occurs.
  • Identify the organisation’s pride points and help people to see how the change reinforces and amplifies these pride points.
  • Recognise that each person will respond differently based on their personal circumstances. For example, how the change affects their standing in the organisation, their ability to be effective and their job security.
  • Consistently and continuously celebrate small wins, so that people can clearly see the arc of progress.
  • Balance empathy and accountability – as much as people are provided support, they are also expected to engage in the process or constructively work through issues.

By working closely with the humans in your organisation, providing evidence of genuine care and building organisational resilience over time, it is possible to create a change-positive culture.

A change positive culture is one which doesn’t just embrace any change that comes along, it also embraces and engages with voices against the change to ensure the collective wisdom of the organisation is galvanised.

Most change processes don’t fully address the human side of change. When results aren’t delivered (which is in around 70% of change initiatives) this is often attributed to staff being change resistant. Adaptive organisations understand that human beings are central to an organisational system and work with the people who will have ultimate carriage of the change. To learn more about adaptive cultures, download our whitepaper.

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