Why do employees resist change?

They resist change because we all resist change. Every animal and plant on the planet resists change.

It’s instinctual, not really under our control. There are, however, ways to help encourage change and work past the resistance compassionately using well understood behavioral science techniques.

The task is to simultaneous eliminate the old behavior while training up the new one. This is a process that is done over time and has to be nurtured and supported. You can’t just do a training and expect everyone to change. That is not how it works.

The best advice to help managers succeed in a change management process is to not freak out at the resistance. Even people who want to change, resist it. Instead, plan for the resistance. Understand it’s not a rebellion, it’s just a necessary part of the transition and continue to put positive pressure toward change and to positively reward the people who do adopt the change.  Positive re-enforcement works better than negative – in all cases.

Depending on the size of the organization, one of the ways to ensure success is to stage the transition using the people most likely to adapt to the new changes first so that you essentially have a proof of concept. You work to make sure the new way of doing things is well established before bringing in the next group.

For example, one of my first jobs was that of a volunteer manager. I had 10 volunteers at a non-profit who thought their job was to spy on staff. The staff/volunteer relationships were toxic. I started out small. Found 3 employees who were willing to experiment with the volunteers. We trained the volunteers on the new job we were asking them to do. Those that didn’t want to do it were let go.  I worked carefully with both staff and volunteers for about 2 months making sure the staff felt supported so that they could establish good working relationships with the volunteers. It was a learning experience for both groups. Once those 3 staff members had volunteers they were working well with, other staff members started asking me to get them volunteers to help them with their work.

I had proved the concept and people started wanting to adopt. Was it easy? No – each new staff volunteer relationship needed to be nurtured and supported to be established right.  Only then could I move on to the next group. Within a few years I had 500+ volunteers donating 20,000+ hours per year in every department of our organization.

Cultural change on a large scale is possible, if you know what you are doing and aren’t afraid of the resistance.

You must work with and around the resistance. Don’t fight it. Resistance is normal. Make space for it within the change management process.

To learn more take my online course: Why is Change so Hard.

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