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  • Salima Hemani

Is your Organization Ready for Change? - Managing and Overcoming Resistance

As described in Part 1 - Understanding Resistance of this 2-part Post on "Is your Organization Ready for Change?", for organizations going through major change, resistance is unavoidable and can quickly derail all productive efforts if left unchecked. To successfully prepare for resistance, it is important to identify the two main sources of resistance:

Individual-level Resistance: At an individual level, the causes are plenty and understandable. These are rooted in human psychology such as unwillingness to change long standing habits or learn new ones, preference for stability, lack of skill or ability, self-doubt, and mainly fear; fear of job security, financial implications, loss of power and general unknown. No matter how great the change is, these are normal human reactions. Often people experience these feelings because they misunderstand the implications of change or are acting in self-interest and solely focusing on their own personal benefits rather than those of the organization as a whole.

Organization-level Resistance: Organizational entities also provide causes of resistance through existing structural mechanisms. For example, people are hired to “fit in” to the existing culture and norms. Employees are recognized and rewarded based on certain expected behaviors and are trained to perform in specific ways which may be in contradiction to what the change requires. Organizations may also resist change because of complicated legalities and bureaucracies in place that may be hard to overcome. For example, an organization going through large technology transformation may require going with a new software vendor. If the organization has history with the vendors of the existing technology, previously established formal contracts and agreements may make it hard to go with a new provider even if they are offering a better solution that the change requires. Another important source of resistance, which is often overlooked, is the organization’s history with past changes; how those were handled has a huge impact on how the new change will be received as there may already be preset prejudices about change management in general.

As change practitioners and leaders, it is imperative to understand that all change (whatever size, shape, purpose etc.) produces disruption and all disruption produces resistance. The key is to accept this and actively manage it so that it can be used for making the change initiative effective and impactful. I would like to introduce the P.E.A.C.E model for actively managing resistance to change:

  1. PARTICIPATION: This involves ensuring that all those directly and indirectly impacted by the change feel heard and have input in making the initiative a success. For example, one way to accomplish this would be to invite a team member from each functional group to participate in meetings, provide feedback or even become liaison for the new change.

  2. EXPRESSION: This means providing a safe and open environment for people to share their concerns about the change. Providing this is especially important to avoid giving rise to covert types of resistance which can be quite destructive and potentially derail the entire change effort. Giving people a chance to be heard and acknowledged, can tame unnecessary fears and doomsday imaginations. 

  3. ACTION: This means actively involving impacted stakeholders in the management and implementation of change so they feel ownership for its success. This can be done by selecting a group of change agents from management and non-management positions who are not only responsible for articulating and promoting the change within the rest of the organization, but also can provide feedback to the change leadership and management team regarding the barriers which may exist out in the organization that need to be addressed in a timely manner for the change to succeed.

  4. COMMITMENT: This includes having leaders clearly articulate the vision for change and why the change is necessary, not only for the organization overall but for the individuals impacted. When leaders authentically and openly commit to supporting individuals through change, demonstrating willingness to address concerns, and detangling unnecessary red tape and bureaucratic hurdles,  it sends a strong and powerful message that the leaders are fully committed to the success of the change.

  5. EMPATHY: This is the most important defense against resistance. It requires change leaders and practitioners to demonstrate true understanding of employees’ fears by being transparent in their actions, honestly communicating what positive and not so positive impacts the change may have, and the plan of action to fairly address or mitigate any potentially negative consequences. It is also recognizing whether the root of any resistance is truly unwillingness or is it because the resistors don’t have the right skills and knowledge to work in the new environment. If it is a case of capability, then leaders should plan to invest in appropriate training and education to address those gaps and eliminate fears.

Leaders and change practitionors should know that resistance to change is natural. Planning and preparing for it is best way to manage it, and can significantly increase the organization's capacity to successfully manage change.

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