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Managing Resistance to Change in the Workplace

Executive Summary

You know the saying "do as I say, not as I do?" Well, turns out it is detrimental to your effectiveness at managing resistance to change in the workplace. If you want your team to accept change, you have to first be able to accept change yourself.

  • Managers can admit their disdain for change while still expressing their support for it, especially when it benefits other members of the company.
  • Empathize with the individual who is hesitant in the face of new circumstances. The fear of the unknown causes employees to put their skills into question, even if it is unwarranted.
  • There are many ways to reduce resistance, but the most effective tactic is to provide as much information as possible.

One of the most important aspects of a manager’s job is managing change effectively. Managing change includes accepting change and supporting it, understanding why your team members may be resistant to it, and finding ways to reduce that resistance. When you are able to do all three of these, you have mastered one of the most critical competencies of any manager.

Accept Change Yourself

Have you ever worked for a manager who found it difficult to accept the changes initiated by the organization? This type of manager will openly express disagreement, call the decision-makers fools who have no clue what they are doing, and try to convince you that most of these changes are terrible for the staff as well.

This is a serious mistake on the part of a manager.

It causes employees to lose faith in company decisions and ultimately in the company. As a manager, not only do you have to be prepared to embrace change and be a champion of it, but also to accept and support changes that you may disagree with. It is best to admit that you do not like the change (as your staff may already know this), but state that you will actively support it and expect your staff to support it as well.

For example, let’s say that the company has decided to go with a new Enterprise Management System (EMS) system but you feel the old system is currently giving you what you need. What would be the danger of not supporting the new decision?

First, you are looking at the change only from your vantage point. There may be benefits you do not see that are real for others in the company.

Second, you are sending a message that your opinion counts more than that of the organization. It is important as a new manager that you get your team members to align themselves with the goals and decisions of the organization. Ideally, it would be best if you were part of the decision-making process and upper management asked your thoughts and listened to your opinions. Then, perhaps, you could accept the change more readily, even if you disagreed with it.

But whether or not you were included in the decision-making process, as a manager, you must actively communicate your support for company policies, procedures, rules, regulations, and decisions.

Resistance to Change IN the workplace

As was mentioned in Chapter 2 [of The First Time Manager] most people are naturally resistant to change. There is often resistance even when an apparently good change is introduced in the workplace.

What makes people so resistant to change? People basically fear the unknown and how they will react to uncertainties. Change may put a person’s job at risk. Many may believe they do not have the skills to perform the responsibilities that the change may bring or they are unclear about the reasons the change is being introduced in the first place.

Resistance to change is also very subjective. That is, people have different threshold levels to change. Some of us who have had bad experiences with change, or grew up in environments where change was considered threatening, will obviously be more resistant when change occurs than those who have benefited from change in the past, or were taught to embrace change.

Resistance to change is subjective in another way. Changes affect people in different ways. For example, Michelle has always prepared documentation for any package she sends out so that she will be able to track it later on if necessary, or quickly answer any questions from customers, vendors, salespeople, and so forth. Brad has never done this; he thinks it is a waste of his time. When the company institutes a new policy calling for careful documentation of all outgoing packages, Michelle is unfazed. Brad reacts negatively to this new “busywork” and complains to everybody about it.

How to Reduce Resistance

It is unwise to think that you can totally eliminate your team’s resistance to workplace changes. As we already mentioned, people will normally be resistant. You will be more successful if you try to reduce the amount of
resistance. The best strategy is to involve your employees in the change.

Above all else, provide as much information as possible. Because resistance to change is based on a fear of the unknown, you need to minimize the unknowns. The fewer unknowns the less resistance. This of course does
not mean that all information will be well-received. But it is better for your people to have accurate information they do not like than no information or inaccurate information.

As we all know, people will get information any way they can. If you are not providing it they will find other sources—and there is a high likelihood that what they find will be inaccurate. By being your team’s source of accurate information you will be correctly seen as their best guide through the change.

Next explain why the change is occurring and point out any benefits to them. Often there are no benefits for them. The customer may benefit or some other department may flourish as a result. Sometimes, you just have
to be honest and say something like “This will not help our team, but it will help make the entire organization more successful,” or, “Not every change benefits our team, but others have and will.”

Then, ask your employees how the change can be implemented in their group or your department. The more you involve others with the change the more readily they will accept it. Sometimes your most resistant
employees, once involved, become your biggest champions for the change. Always try to identify the most resistant individuals from the beginning and get them on your side. Change occurs much more easily when you have their support.

Excerpted with permission from The First-Time Manager by Jim McCormick, copyright Loren B. Belker, Jim McCormick, and Gary S. Topchik.

Bring It Home

Think back to a time when you were an employee and had to change a process, add another responsibility to your job description, or endure a transfer to a new department or location. How did you feel about your position and role within the company? How did your perception of your manager change during that time of uncertainty? Comment below with your experience and describe how you might approach managing resistance to change in the workplace in a leadership role.

Jim McCormick

Jim McCormick is founder and president of the Research Institute for Risk Intelligence, and the former COO of the nation’s fifth-largest architectural firm. As an organizational consultant and executive coach, he has extensive experience working with CEOs and other leaders. He co-wrote The First-Time Manager with Loren B. Belker and Gary S. Topchik.

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