Change Management

4 reasons why people resist change and how to deal with it

Lieven Oosterlinck

In our fast-paced environment, organisations need to adjust their strategies to keep up with competition and market demands. However, changes in strategy often bump into resistance.

 

To ensure a successful change, it’s important to understand why some people are reluctant, resistant, or even opposed to change. In this article we’ll outline the 4 main reasons for change resistance and we’ll discuss how you should deal with them

  1. Not enough time to focus on the goal of the change
  2. Fear of the unknown
  3. Mistrusting the change output
  4. Not being informed (in time)

 

Not enough time to focus on the change 

 

The management team thinks 5 months about the strategy.
They take 5 weeks to put it on paper.
In 5 days, they try to convince their direct reports.
They have 5 hours to tell it to their teams.
The teams have 5 minutes to understand.
And they have 5 seconds to ask questions.

There is a core of truth here, that shows the difference between how a change topic is in the mind of the manager and HR for a much longer timeframe, than any other employee. It seems very logical, that if an employee doesn’t understand why he/she needs to change a process or behaviour, he/she will not be inclined to commit to it.

Take the time to communicate the change well, elaborate on the why and validate if people understand it well enough by leaving room for feedback and questions.

Fear of the unknown

Evidently, staying inside the comfort zone is often preferred over trying out new ideas, simply because it’s new and unfamiliar. However, the perception of risk, related to organisational change, can be reduced by clear communication about the process and the expected output.

When talking about what you expect the change will deliver, never make promises about the expected output. You can talk about what you hope will be the output and what you will be working towards, but as a manager it’s safer to make commitments on the change process. Explain that sticking to the new process results in a higher chance of success and that you’ll work together to make it as successful as possible. But don’t try to predict the output because if it won’t be the same as you promised people might be disappointed. 

Mistrusting the change output

Employees will not be inclined to embrace change if they don’t believe that it will pay off. This fear can be induced by:

  • the belief that the management is incompetent
  • the belief that the change is temporary
  • the belief that the old way is better

Talk to employees and listen to their concerns regarding the change!

The first thing you need to do is talk with employees and actively listen to their concerns, show empathy and understanding. Lack of competence is a fear that will not easily be admitted, but with thorough open questions you should be able to pinpoint the exact reasons why the employee distrusts the change.

Ask what can be done for the employee to make the change easier or how he/she would approach the change in order to make it a success. You’ll never be able to get everyone 100% on board, but if you show your honest intentions, connect with your employees on a human level and practice what you preach by sticking to the plan, you’ll be able to get most people to trust you, the process and eventually the change.

 

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Not being informed in time

This can be a particularly strong argument why employees are not invested in the change process. Simply because it feels like they are being told what to do, even if they understand the why and the projected output of the change.

Ofcourse, you can’t include the entire organisation in strategic workshops to make change decisions. However, it’s not so difficult to communicate very clearly about the start of the project, who’s going to work on it and when everyone will get an update on the (first) outcome.

Communication is really key in a change process. It should be part of every project framework, before kicking off the project itself. If possible, try to include a feedback window where (some) employees can leave their thoughts before the project’s final conclusion. 

Conclusion

The four issues people have with change, namely not receiving enough time to focus on the change’s goal, fear of the unknown, mistrusting the change output and not being informed in time have one overarching solution: communication

Communication is really key in a change process. It should be part of every project framework, before kicking off the project itself.

Firstly, when communicating the change in time towards all employees they have time to process the change and commit to it. It also allows them to understand what’s going on and makes them feel more included. Secondly, when communicating clearly about the process and the expected output, employees’ fear of the unknown can be reduced. Lastly, when talking to employees you can figure out why they distrust the change. This way you can anticipate on it and make them have faith in you and in the change.

When you have the right communication processes, employees will be more involved, which is not only good for accepting change, but also for the culture and transparency of your organisation. And remember: an informed employee is a happy employee!