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How to manage resistance to change

It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change – Charles Darwin.

Since the dawn of time change has been an inevitability of human existence and also an ongoing source of interest and preoccupation, particularly when it comes to business.

Businesses who want to retain a competitive edge know they need to move with the times and there are plenty of examples across the course of history – Blockbuster being just one of many – whose untimely demise is a warning to organisations that if they resist the type of change that is imperative for their survival, then they too can find themselves in the red.

Change within the context of a commercial organisation comes in all shapes and sizes – developmental (improving current business procedures), transitional (implementing new technology or creating new products and services, managing mergers, acquisitions or restructures), and transformational (significant cultural, strategic, operational and product and service changes).

The art of great change management is a popular topic amongst corporates, and individual organisations may come to the party with their own recommendations and examples of how to successfully manage change and deal with resistance – the two usually go hand-in-hand. Yet while opinions and approaches often differ, there are still some common denominators when it comes to the most essential steps for dealing with change and resistance.

Here’s our top three:

  1. Manage your expectations: fact is, change is a very uncomfortable prospect for many people. Comfort is also found in the status quo – but so is mediocrity, hence why change is so important. First and foremost, don’t be surprised by resistance to change and prepare your leadership team for this eventuality. Even when employees know change is on the horizon, or even helped to engineer it, they may become intimidated by it. Bearing this in mind will help you to lead the change with empathy and preparedness as part of your toolkit.
  2. Develop and communicate the strategy: no change can be effectively implemented without a strategy that is agile at its heart. Every great change management strategy leaves room for change! Ensuring that staff feel well informed and involved in the change from the outset will encourage investment and mitigate resistance. The strategy includes a resistance management plan, along with a communications plan, sponsorship roadmap, coaching plan and training plan. Each of these plans works individually and collectively to help every individual in the organisation to move through the changes and address any barriers that may stop the changes from taking effect.
  3. Educate and empower your leaders: managing change and dealing with resistance is a team effort. Your leadership team – your managers – need to be trained in how to deal with managing resistance. If they are not committed to the change themselves, they can negatively influence how their direct reports perceive and respond to the changes too. Address resistance with your managers first before expecting them to address it with their reports.

Most importantly, be prepared to listen – soliciting feedback from those at the coalface and then acting on it helps to build strength and respect.