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Managing Resistance To Change

At some point in your career you are going to be faced with the challenge of managing resistance to change.

One thing all leaders should keep in mind as they begin a change initiative is that things will generally get a whole lot worse before they get a whole lot better. On a rational level we all think that once a change is implemented things should improve (who is going to introduce change that is going to make things worse!), however the reality is, is that things usually dive for a while before they improve.

valley of despair Good news! When you understand
that chaos comes before success
you'll cope a whole lot better!

Whether the chaos following a change is due to poor implementation or resistance by people, you need to understand that for a time there will be a gap between where you want to be and where you are. And, unfortunately you won't know how far into the cycle you are. Known as the valley of despair - this time can be demoralizing for all involved.

Approach the change adventure with realistic expectations - things will probably get worse before they get better! Knowing this you can tough it out and get past the valley of despair, until things can begin to turn around. Eventually your hoped-for results begin to appear.

Let's take a look at what you can do to manage resistance to change - and even with the best laid and best executed plans you can expect resistance!

Identify Key Stakeholders

The success or otherwise of your project will hinge largely on the people who have power and influence within your business (and they will not always be the 'official leader') and could include people outside your business such as customers and suppliers. These people can either be strong supporters of your change initiative or they can block it and shut it down indefinitely.

You can use the opinions of the most powerful stakeholders to shape your project at an early stage. Not only does this make it more likely that they will support you, their input can also improve the quality of your change initiative.

When you take the time to identify the key stakeholders and and what their possible reaction to your project may be you give yourself the opportunity to influence their preparedness to support the change and hopefully win their support.

When you download "Managing Change In The Workplace", make use of the Key Stakeholders chart to help you identify the possible reactions of people to the change.

Once you have analyzed your key stakeholders and their preparedness to support the change and their influence on others, you then up the anti by asking a series of eight questions that will help you strategize how to best influence them. As an example, two of the questions you might like to ask are:

  1. What financial or emotional interest do they have in the change initiative?
  2. Who else might be influenced by their opinions? Do these people become stakeholders in their own right?

Focusing on the highly influential stakeholders first and the low influencer stakeholders last, devise a practical plan that communicates with people as effectively as possible and that shares the right amount of information in a way that neither under nor over-communicates.

Think through what you need to do to keep your best supporters engaged and on-board (they are actually far more important than the opposers - as the people prevaricating in the middle - wondering which way to lay their 'chips' - will be looking to see who is getting all the attention). Then, work out how to win over or neutralize the opposition of skeptics.

Managing Resistance To Change By Engaging and Inspiring Commitment

The degree of trust you have built with your team and key stakeholders will definitely pay off (or payback) about now! If you aren't trusted or believed by those people the chances of you engaging and inspiring commitment to the change are slim! But if you have built that solid foundation of trust ... then it is about to pay great dividends!

Probably the most important consideration in managing resistance to change, is how to develop commitment to the new way of doing things.

Commitment does not mean compliance ("going along with") but the readiness and willingness to do whatever it takes (within reason and ethics) to make the new way work effectively. Here are some broad strategies that leaders can adapt in order to make sure that people who "survive" the change genuinely commit themselves to support the new structure.

Have A Well Planned Out Strategy For Feedback And Input

A critical step in getting people's buy in is to enable them to feel that they have a say in their future destiny. People are much more likely to support a new set of ideas which they have had a key role in shaping.

Initiate involvement in shaping the change as early and with the greatest amount of participation and decision-making as possible.

You may not always be able to implement all the suggestions. When you can't include the suggestions offered up, then be crystal clear about why this cannot happen. As much as you can though you should try to make use of the input provided and include it in the change process.

The most destructive change strategy is to pretend to listen to and consider the groups concerns, having already decided in advance what is appropriate/going to happen. This type of approach will backfire, because people will quickly perceive that they are being manipulated and conclude that the process is dishonest.

Be Willing To Compromise

If you hold rigidly to your predetermined outcomes and display unwillingness to compromise, the possibility of work group support is minimized. Involved team members often will suggest changes that greatly improve the original plan, because the people most heavily affected by a plan will correct its obvious defects.

Acknowledge Your Supporters And Reward Them

Don't wait for examples of completely changed behavior to surface before rewarding the new behavior. Reinforce any significant movement in the right direction.

Make sure that you let the people who are the early adopters know just how much you appreciate them. Throw a party, give them a gift, do something that acknowledges their efforts on behalf of the change project.

Recognize And Prepare for People's Reactions

Asking people to make significant behavioral changes and/or learn new and complex skills can be a very frightening request for many. Don't underestimate the degree to which someone's fear of 'looking foolish' might drive, an otherwise rational person, to act in unhelpful or obtuse manner.

You can view people's resistance as a problem and treat it coercively, which will probably add resistance. Or you can see it as a signal that people need more information or better treatment.

people resisting change

Much research has linked the feelings of anxiety, stress, uncertainty (even for those managing the change) with a decline in self-esteem. This decline has a major impact on performance and motivation. Read here how you can deal with people's emotional reactions to change.

Provide Just-in-time and Just-enough Training and Coaching

People may need a new set of skills or you may simply need to teach them about the phases they can expect to go through during the change process. Don't overwhelm them with too much training. Do it as is needed, at the level and pace they can cope with.

In Summary

When managing resistance to change keep in mind that people's emotions are what you need to deal with the most.

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