British statesman, Harold Wilson, once said, “He who rejects change is the architect of decay.” We’ve all heard change is inevitable, that everything around us is in a constant state of change. So, why is it that employees are often so resistant to change?
When it comes to effective change leadership, you need to understand that there are four main factors that contribute to employee resistance to change. They either do not perceive the change to be beneficial, do not perceive the sacrifice that they have to make to be worth the benefits of the change, they didn’t help create the change, or they don’t trust the architects of the change. And you can imagine how multiple factors can apply to one change, compounding employee dissatisfaction and resistance.
For example, let’s imagine that your organization announces that you’re going to implement a new client data management system. The organization told all of you as employees: This has a lot of benefits! It’s going to be a great new system! It’s going to be much more efficient!
But you’re going to have to come in every weekend for the next year to train on this new system. You are going to have to transfer all the data over to the new system and that can take up to 9 months. You had no idea the organization was looking for a new system – or even that you needed one. No one bothered to ask you if there were any other systems that you would recommend using that may be better. And what exactly is going to make this new system so much better and more efficient than the one you are using?
So, is this change beneficial to you? Do the benefits outweigh the sacrifices you have to make to implement the change (a whole year of weekends!?) Were you part of the change, and do you really trust the decisions that the change leadership team have thrust upon you? In this example, probably not.
The underlying problem here is really a lack of communication. Without clearly communicating the benefits of the change, there is no way the organization is going to be able to get you on board. The new system may be the best available, and totally worth the sacrifice required to implement it. But how do you know that without having someone clearly communicate the benefits and walk you through the new system?
How do we, as leaders, overcome resistance to change, knowing what we know now about the factors that contribute to resistance? If you really want your change leadership to engage your employees, you need to start with the last factor—trust—and move up the list, because if you do it in this order people are much more likely to engage with the change.
Trust is a key contributor to being an effective leader in so many areas, and change leadership is no exception. It goes without saying that to build better trust you need to be a trustworthy person. This entails being honest, transparent, dependable, confidential, loyal, accountable, and humble.
The next step in effective change leadership is to let people help create the change. There will be much higher buy-in for it, and a desire to see it succeed if your team is a part of the decision process. You’ll also often find that you’re able to implement far more efficient, beneficial solutions in your organization by involving the people who are working on those tasks and activities every day.
Without real benefits to change, there’s no incentive to embrace that change—plain and simple. When people see that the benefits are huge, they actually want the change even though it does entail some sacrifice. Change should be a positive thing in your organization—not simply change for the sake of change. Is all change good? No, it’s not. Not all change is good.
People don’t resist all change. They resist change they do not perceive to be beneficial. They resist change when they do not perceive the sacrifice that they have to make to be worth the benefits of the change. They resist change that they didn’t help create, and they resist change when they don’t trust the architects of the change. Let them be a part of the change process. Make sure that there are lots of benefits that are clearly communicated, and create an environment of trust. Then you will see higher morale in the midst of change.