How can you tackle resistance to change in your business?

To implement change successfully, you need to give the ‘people side’ as much emphasis and investment as the project planning and technology. It’s not just about delivering on time, budget and specification; every individual will make their own personal transition and if you don’t support staff in the right way then the change is likely to fail.

As the old saying goes: “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”.

If you’re delivering change in your business and you’re facing stiff resistance from your staff, try these 10 simple tips to help you get back on track.

10 simple ways to tackle resistance to change in your business:

1. Acknowledge when resistance is justified (are you sure the change isn’t just a terrible idea?)

If the change hasn’t been properly thought through or has been designed by people who don’t fully understand the problem statement, then there’s a chance you’re seeing resistance for good reason. So before you try to curb it, listen to feedback, explore other options and adjust your plan if necessary.

2. Accept resistance is normal and don’t take it personally

We’re all hard-wired to resist change from an evolutionary perspective, to protect us from danger, so don’t be too surprised if it surfaces. We find comfort and safety in the status quo because we know what to expect (and what’s expected of us). So when managers start talking about change it triggers a stress response. We’re suddenly faced with uncertainty and our brains go into over-drive thinking through the potential negative impacts: What will it mean for me? Will I lose my job? What if I can’t use the new technology? Will I look stupid if I can’t do it? Where will I find time to do all this? We also draw on past experiences, so if previous changes were handled badly there may be a lack of trust that you have to tackle first.

3. Lead the change - be a good Change Sponsor

If you want your staff to support the change, you need to help them understand why it’s a good idea and convince them of the benefits. What’s in it for them? Be respectful and acknowledge the hard work that has brought you past success and got you to where you are today, but also paint an exciting vision for the future and explain the changes needed to move the business forward in its next chapter.

4. Prepare your line managers - it’s going to be a team effort

Whilst your staff will want to hear about the change from ‘the top’, they’re likely to direct their questions and concerns at their immediate managers. Support line managers through regular communication, information sharing and coaching, so they’re able to guide their teams through the change confidently. And remember there’s no shame in not knowing all the answers - just be honest and remember to feed back as soon as you can.

5. Create a culture where staff can co-create and own the change

If you’re relying on external consultants or project teams to scope changes in isolation then you’re ignoring your greatest assets. Your staff should understand your business, products, customers and issues better than anyone else and have a vested interest in creating solutions that make their jobs easier and your business more successful. Create a culture where continuous improvement is standard practice. Embed simple ways for staff to feedback (and act on) innovations and improvements, big or small. Over time they will become the source of future changes, not just the recipients, and will be much less likely to resist if they co-create the solutions.

6. Communicate early and often

Providing relevant information and encouraging feedback reduces fear and builds trust. Nobody likes surprises, so try to avoid the ‘big reveal’ / ‘ta da’ approach to change. Start communicating as early as possible, even if you don’t have all the answers. Be honest about progress and don’t sweep issues under the carpet. Communication needs to be 2-way, so listen to and act on feedback. If you’re seeing resistance, then you need to understand what’s going on. Make communication a team effort by using line managers and Change Champions to spread the word and feed back. Tools such as Yammer or Microsoft Teams can help and keep things creative, using a variety of different channels.

7. Provide training and coaching support

If you’re implementing new technology, processes or ways of working, then staff will need to learn new skills and behaviours to operate successfully in the ‘new world’. Give them as much support as possible through training and coaching. Be creative and allow plenty of time to practice and embed learning before ‘go live’. Knowing how to hit a golf ball theoretically is no substitute for hours of practice. Allow time to try new systems, ask questions and make mistakes in a safe environment to build confidence. Team and 121 coaching are also valuable. In a recent ICF (International Coaching Federation) report, 78% of organisations reported that one-to-one coaching with a professional coach practitioner was very/extremely helpful in achieving the goals of the change management initiative, but only 29% of organisations surveyed currently offered this activity. (ICF report: Building a coaching culture for change management, 2018)

8. Create space for change - you can’t demand the impossible!

The change you’re proposing could be exactly what’s needed, but if your staff are already juggling huge workloads or other changes are landing at the same time, it may not be realistic to expect them to embrace even more. Consider capacity and expect a reduction in productivity as everyone adjusts to the new ways of working and make sure line managers support them through the transition.

9. Be patient

You may have been planning the change for months/years and be excited about the future, but remember that everyone else may be hearing the news for the first time. Don’t rush the change or expect everyone to be on board immediately. If staff think the change is going to threaten their job security or increase workload, then they’re likely to be stressed and have a lot to process. Even positive changes can mean staff need to learn new skills or ways of working which they may initially lack the skills to do, so they need time to practice and build their confidence.

10. Celebrate success throughout the project

You’re asking people to go the extra mile, so appreciate their efforts regularly and don’t wait until launch day for a celebration. Create energy and enthusiasm throughout the transition by celebrating key milestones and recognising the efforts of members of staff who are contributing and supporting the change positively. Saying thank you goes a long way!

If you need help planning or implementing change in your business, or would like me to support your staff through 121 coaching, contact me today.