Strategies to Overcome Resistance to Change

A resilient organization adapts quickly to change.  How do you become that kind of organization when faced by resistance that slows down change adoption?

It’s helpful to start by looking at some common reasons why people resist change.  They range from a belief that the change is unnecessary or will make the situation worse, to a lack of trust in the people leading the change. Some people simply don’t like the way the change has been introduced, and others are not confident the change will succeed. Often, resistance stems from having had no input in planning and implementing the change.

In dealing with resistance, leaders often mistakenly label someone as “a problem employee” or “difficult” when, in fact, the employee simply needs more knowledge, skills or structure around their performance.  If the person lacks knowledge or skills then you will want to provide them with education, training, or specific communication about the what, why, when and who of the change.  You can also take steps to involve employees in the planning and decision making for change. For those who are unwilling even though they have the skills and knowledge, you can set goals measurements, provide coaching/feedback and give rewards to motivate them.

Here are some other proven ways to address resistance and gain support for change:

  1. Encourage people to openly express their thoughts and feelings about the change in formal and informal meetings or check-ins.
  2. When resistance occurs, listen carefully to gain an understanding of the concerns.
  3. Treat resistance as a problem to solve, not a character flaw. Try to understand the person’s rationale and motivation.
  4. Once you understand the nature of the concerns, bring people together to discuss and deal with the perceived problems, and possible solutions.
  5. Communicate frequently and be willing to answer difficult questions.

For more thoughts on getting employees to support change, see my previous post on“4 Conversational Elements to Engage Others in Change.”

The Brain on Change

Most people see change as difficult and thus resist it adamantly.  I see this happen often among all types of individuals and teams.  It’s due in large part to a fear of the unknown that change represents.  This fear then shows up as resistance that can block or stall organizational change efforts.

What many people don’t realize is that when a person is highly resistant to change, their brain is most likely activating a neurological stress response in the body.  As human beings, we are biologically wired to enter a stress response when we encounter a situation that makes us anxious or afraid.  Under stress, the sympathetic nervous system sends a signal to the brain’s prefrontal cortex command center.  The brain responds by diverting the body’s attention to a “fight, flight or freeze” survival mode and away from activities that create opportunity and help a person thrive.

In primitive times, this stress response helped our ancestors fight or run from predators.  Today, it can be triggered by a fear of change, causing us to resist by pushing back, fleeing some situation, or simply “checking out”.

When addressing change and resistance, we can get the best possible outcome by being aware of and managing this stress response.  You are probably in a stress response if you are feeling:

  • Unfocused
  • Overly focused (obsessed, “tunnel vision”)
  • Impatient
  • Anxious
  • Your heart rate increasing
  • Your breath becoming shallow
  • Your muscles tightening

Notice your reactions to change, using your body as a source of information.  If you become aware of one of the stress response signs listed above, let that be a piece of information.  Awareness and understanding allow you to work with the response in a productive way, instead of getting hooked and stuck in it.  You can stop and calm your response – even retrain your brain – through mindfulness, relaxation and other techniques.

Keep these things in mind when facing change.  Be kind to yourself and others going through change.  You might find that when you shift your attitude and response to change, it can in fact be easy and a positive thing.

Flourishing in Times of Change

This week, I have been reading the book Flourish, by Martin Seligman. With a focus different from the traditional goal of psychology to relieve human suffering, Flourish shows how to get the most out of life for individuals, for communities, and for nations. Seligman asks: What is it that enables you to cultivate your talents, to build deep, lasting relationships with others, to feel pleasure, and to contribute meaningfully to the world?

He identifies several key factors that can help individuals thrive: positive emotion, meaning, engagement with what one is doing, a sense of accomplishment, and good relationships. With inspiring stories, he demonstrates these principles in action, including performance improvement along with employee well-being in corporations; military training in emotional resilience; and education in schools for fulfillment in life and not just for workplace success.

Reading Flourish reminds me that when we think about cultivating resilience in the workplace, it’s important to be really aware of how we think about ourselves in both our work and our daily lives. What if we focus more on flourishing instead of just getting by and dealing with our pain when faced with distress or challenge?

Instead of getting the message that change is difficult, or will be difficult, what if I got a message that I could flourish in change? Because of what we know about how the human brain is wired, we know that it is, in fact, possible and desirable for people to reorganize around a picture of flourishing, if that’s what’s presented.

If we refocus our conversations on hope, possibility, and flourishing, I believe organizations and the people in them can thrive, grow and achieve top performance during times of change.

Share your ideas about the book or flourishing in general!

3 Ways Leaders Unconsciously Sabotage Their Credibility

When a leader in business is considered “credible,” we typically see them as someone who we can trust, respect and understand, and as a result we are generally willing to be influenced by them in some way.  Leadership credibility creates the foundation for our leadership actions and behaviors.  As leaders with credibility, we are able to influence, inspire and generate collaboration.  Without real credibility, we find ourselves facing resistance, mistrust and lack of support from others for our initiatives.

Many leaders attribute lack of support to office politics, difficult colleagues and poor business conditions.  While it may be true that there are organizational challenges, it’s helpful to consider how your leadership credibility fits into the picture.  Thus, it behooves leaders to step back and assess their level of credibility.  By doing so, you can strengthen your capacity to influence others and achieve your goals.

Often, leaders unconsciously and unknowingly sabotage their own credibility in their work.  In a recent conversation with a client – a leader in a global technology company – we were discussing his credibility.  He said, “I’ve earned it from my people.  They see me as credible.  After all, I helped us through our recent re-structure.  That feels like it’s enough to make me credible.”  The truth was, it wasn’t enough.  People in the company are in fact struggling with the change and have not returned to their previous level of productivity and begun achieving new results.  I challenged my client to consider what else his team, colleagues and management needs from him now so they can continue seeing him as credible in his new leadership role.

As I went deeper into the coaching conversation with John*, we identified a few ways he was actually sabotaging his leadership credibility.  We discussed:

1.        Assuming a Level of Credibility That Doesn’t Exist

John assumed that he had earned an adequate level of credibility and no further action was required.  This limited view kept him from seeing that further actions were needed with his team and colleagues.  We identified communication that needed to happen along with a series of meetings to re-build engagement, trust and motivation within his team.  By keeping the communication open – seeking to understand and be understood – he opened the door to increased credibility. 

2.        Lose Focus on Your Team’s Results and Forward Action

In the midst of change, John lost focus on helping his team create results and move forward with their projects.  The change initiative overtook the other projects people were working on (a common occurrence) and they became de-motivated and disengaged.  John had little time to coach his team, so they started to see him as someone who didn’t really care about them and was too busy “with management stuff.”  While this is absolutely not what John thought, his lack of focus on their results weakened his credibility with them.

3.       Failing to Understand Key Stakeholders Concerns

When John was busy with the restructure, he had little time to meet with his key stakeholders; he was primarily focused on getting his own team through the change.  Unfortunately, he lost opportunities to understand their goals, challenges and key learnings that would have proved beneficial as he rolled out the new structure.  One of the executives told him, “You just don’t have time for me these days.  I understand how busy you are, but we need to get together soon.”  John initially ignored this request (he considered it more of a social gesture) but later scheduled a series of meetings with key stakeholders to better understand them and align their work.  This strengthened the perception of him as a leader who had the big picture in mind, which will help boost his credibility in the future.

As you can see, John was working hard to make the restructure successful for his team and the organization.  However, unconsciously he was actually sabotaging his own leadership credibility by assuming his own credibility, losing focus on his team and failing to understand his key stakeholders.

Are you unknowingly sabotaging your own leadership credibility?  

Join one of our upcoming webinars or workshops to explore specific actions you can take to build your leadership credibility.

*Name changed to maintain confidentiality.

4 Conversational Elements to Engage Others in Change

I am often approached by leaders who want to get their change initiatives on track and see rapid adoption of change behaviors. One of the first things I ask them is whether they are having conversations with their employees.

According to Ken Blanchard one of the top reasons why change efforts typically fail is that people leading the change think that announcing the change is the same as implementing it. They don’t take time to engage their people and provide them the opportunity to voice their concerns.

It’s easy to get caught up in the “business” side of change management – the planning, budgeting, staffing and problem-solving.  Be sure to also focus on aligning, motivating and inspiring your people. It will help you build a more resilient team that can move through change with agility and flexibility.

People don’t adopt change simply because their leader has rolled out a new strategy that mandates the change. Before getting behind the change they need to first get emotionally engaged. After that they can look at implementation and see how it links back to their job roles. If your team isn’t emotionally engaged, they will most likely resist change.

Start by simply talking with them. Here are some suggestions for making your efforts count:

  1. Make space for meaningful conversations. Begin by asking good questions and really listening. Be genuinely concerned with issues people have. Accept the whole spectrum of emotion, and understand that people might be in different places regarding the change.
  2. Promote a common vision then help people connect with their part of the visionRemember to address the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) part of the equation.
  3. Bring clarity, focus and caring. When someone feels they have clarity, know they are cared about, and are clear about what they need to do, they will get emotionally engaged.
  4. Walk your talk. Create alignment and consistency by modeling the change behavior you are asking of them.

Are there other ways you have found to get people engaged in change?  Would love to hear them!

Building a Resilient Organizational Culture

The saying “change is the only constant” seems like an understatement these days. Whether it’s due to economic pressures, corporate mergers, technological innovation, or natural disasters, most of us are increasingly faced with big change. If you are a leader today, you are probably looking at how you can build a resilient organization – one that has the capacity to successfully flow through any disruption and challenges that come your way. How can you develop a culture that sees change as an opportunity for growth?

I recently read the article “Building a Resilient Organizational Culture” by George S. Everly, Jr. PhD, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Dr. Everly discusses how organizations can develop a culture of resilience, just like individuals can learn to develop personal traits of resilience. It got me thinking about how important it is for leaders to model resilient behavior for their employees.

According to Dr. Everly, when a small number of high credibility individuals demonstrate the behaviors associated with resilience, they can change an entire culture of an organization as others replicate these resilient characteristics. Frontline leaders can serve as a catalyst to “tip” an organization in the direction of resilience by demonstrating optimism, decisiveness, integrity, and open communications.

I like Dr. Everly’s belief that optimism and self-efficacy can be learned in an organization if we:

  • understand that people prosper from success
  • remember that people learn while observing others
  • provide encouragement, support, and even mentoring
  • provide basic training in how to manage personal stress

Let’s remember to nourish and demonstrate our own flexibility, positive thinking, confidence and authenticity to help create resilience both within our organizations and in the world!