Organizations all over the world are suffering from change resistance, and the problem is bigger than ever in 2023. In case you aren’t familiar, “change resistance” refers to a tendency (usually within an organization) for people to push back against possible changes, even when those changes are genuine improvements.
It might mean employees refusing to use new software or comply with new protocols. It could mean employees suffering from sluggish productivity and low engagement after a major change. It could even mean increased polarization, infighting, or other disruptions within your teams due to misaligned perspectives on a forthcoming change.
Change is good, for the most part, so change resistance is a challenge that needs to be overcome. How do you fight back against it?
Table of Contents
How to Reduce Change Resistance
So what steps can you take to reduce change resistance in your organization?
Understand the problem
Try to understand the root causes of change resistance as they apply to your organization. We’ll cover the possibilities in more depth in the next section.
Start with the culture
One of the first things you should do is examine your company culture and make changes or improvements to it, if necessary. Do you have core values about adaptability and flexibility? Is embracing change part of your company mission? Think carefully about your company’s core values and how you promote those core values, and be choosy about who you hire.
Create a more aligned workplace environment
Use messaging and digital displays to create a more aligned workplace environment, where employees truly feel like they’re part of a bigger whole. According to Visix, one of the best ways to do this is with digital signage software (and plenty of digital screens and platforms to display your messaging). Using this software, you can display messages like motivational quotes, recent statistics, and even employee spotlights throughout your organization, both in your physical and digital workspaces.
When your organization is more transparent, employees will be more trusting and more confident in your decisions. Improve transparency by explaining your reasoning whenever possible and answering questions honestly.
Identify and resolve specific complaints/issues
Are there specific issues that employees have with this forthcoming change? If so, this is your opportunity to address them specifically. Can you help clarify misconceptions? Can you make employees more comfortable with your motivation for pursuing this change?
Systemize your new changes
Every new change you roll out in your organization should follow a similar process, with initial waves of information and briefing, on through a long-term follow-up. Once employees are more used to changes arriving at a steady pace and any predictable pattern, they’ll be much more comfortable with future changes.
Appoint better leaders
When leaders express genuine enthusiasm for a change, their employees are much more likely to demonstrate enthusiasm themselves – or at least warm up to the idea of the forthcoming change. Promote your most change-friendly advocates to facilitate less change resistance.
Anticipate resistance to change
No matter how many strategies you implement from this guide, or how naturally comfortable with change your employees seem to be, there’s always going to be at least some resistance to change when you issue a new directive. Your goal as a leader is to anticipate this resistance to change and have a plan for it. The better you understand the mindsets of your employees, and the more specifically you can address their concerns, the less likely the change resistance is to be a problem.
Interview your employees
Take the time to interview your employees to see how they feel about upcoming and in-progress changes. Are they reluctant to embrace a new change? If so, why? How do they feel about your organization overall? How do they feel about their place in it? You can use their answers to fuel a better change resistance management strategy – and measure improvements over time.
The Roots of Change Resistance
You can’t reasonably expect to overcome change resistance until you understand what change resistance is and how it manifests. There are several possible explanations for any given instance of change resistance, but these are some of the most common factors:
Natural human bias
Humans suffer from status quo bias – a natural tendency to prefer your current state of affairs over any possible change. It’s the reason why many of us are willing to stay in bad relationships or stressful jobs, despite knowing there are better opportunities out there; we simply prefer the way things are to the way things could be. In this way, your employees will almost always prefer no change to change.
Fear of the unknown
Some employees are plagued by a fear of the unknown. You may claim that this new software platform is going to make everyone faster, more efficient, and happier with their work, but what if everything becomes much worse? The unknown is hard to quantify and even harder for humans to emotionally process.
Insecurity or perceived threats
Certain employees may also be affected by insecurity or perceived threats. For example, let’s say you have a new policy of officially documenting time spent on various projects; an insecure employee might believe this is the first step to justifying forthcoming layoffs.
Distrust or suspicion
Similarly, if you have a workplace environment that isn’t trusting or transparent, your employees may believe new changes are nefariously motivated. Do they have good reason to believe that these changes are meant to meaningfully improve the average employee’s experience?
If many employees in your organization are already expressing distaste for an upcoming change, it’s natural that your other employees will follow suit. Peer pressure and conformity can make any change resistance problem worse.
Change resistance is a feature of almost every organization – including the most progressive, change-friendly ones. But if you want to incorporate changes more smoothly and consistently, it’s your job to practice proactive change resistance management – and help your employees get more comfortable with the ongoing evolution of your company.