4 tips for managing resistance to change

Last modified 16 June 2023
Balance & Wellbeing
4 tips for managing resistance to change

In today’s world, the only constant is change. And while you may find making modifications within your organisation exciting, not everyone in your team will feel the same.

Asking workers to learn new rules, policies, and procedures can be like pulling teeth. While some team members might embrace the change, others may find leaving their comfort zone unsettling. Employees who feel they haven’t been given a choice may dig their heels in and refuse to adapt. Others may become frustrated but are too afraid to speak up. This results in low morale, loss of control and a tense workplace – all the while, your new changes remain unimplemented, stagnating all progress.

Read on to find out the best strategies for managing resistance to change – the pitfalls and the strategies.

What is resistance to change?

Resistance to change is unwillingness, reluctance or refusal to adopt new changes and instead hold onto pre-existing customs and methods formally used with the organisation.

Recent studies on human brain function show that resistance is both psychological and physiological. Performing differently or learning new procedures requires more brain power and effort. So when someone is presented with a recent change, the physiological reaction is to revert back to what the brain is comfortable with. Thankfully, people are capable of changing their behaviour, but it can be a difficult process.

What causes resistance to change?

Mistrust and lack of confidence

According to change advisor and author Rick Maurer, a lack of confidence in the people making the changes is one of the main causes of resistance to change. Simply put, workers may not be opposing the change itself but the person making it.

Employees who don’t trust or feel confident in their supervisors are less likely to agree with and implement their suggested changes.

Read ‘3 Tips For Building Positive Working Relationships’.

Emotional responses

Humans are creatures of habit. So it’s understandable that many people will emotionally respond to anything that throws off their routine. Be careful not to be perceived as ignoring your workers’ concerns – this will only make the resistance stronger.

The Kübler-Ross Change Curve is a change management model that focuses on emotional reactions to change – which can involve feelings of loss and grief. Some may skip steps or go backwards throughout the transition. As a leader, it’s essential to prepare to manage your team’s emotions and guide them towards acceptance.

Fear of failure

New changes can make your team members question their abilities, making them less likely to accept a different approach if they believe they won’t be able to do it successfully. When people feel threatened or embarrassed by their lack of skill – whether true or not – it’s instinct to protect themselves from failure by resisting the change.

Strategies for managing resistance to change

Listen to your employees’ concerns

The success of any organisational change is through communication. While it may be easier to bark orders at your team members, allow your employees to lead the conversation. After all, people want to feel as though they are being heard, and allowing them to share their concerns can help alleviate any negative feelings.

Hearing your team’s point of view can also provide invaluable insight and help you understand why they are resisting the change. Their feedback may influence how the change is implemented, making the transition easier for everyone.

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Educate your workers on the reason for the change

In the U.S, almost one-third of employees don’t understand why their workplace has enforced new change, and 33% believe that there is a lack of transparency in their internal employee communications. All this leads to mistrust and a lack of confidence in their seniors – the leading cause of resistance to change.

Develop a communication strategy that involves more than merely telling your team what’s expected of them. Focus on why the change has been made and the factors impacting your workers. Remember to emphasise how this new procedure or policy will benefit your employees in the long run.

Implement the change in phases

Rome wasn’t built in a day. It took preparation, planning and plenty of teamwork. It’s the same for your organisation. Breaking down your new change into manageable phases can aid your employees in adopting their new way of working one step at a time.

Avoid overwhelming your workers with a sudden shift in direction. A gradual, more strategic rollout allows your team to adapt slowly to the change and enables you to answer questions and address any issues.

Identify and choose the right resistance managers

It’s easy to assume that the ones implementing the change – project managers, the human resources department or development specialists – would be the ideal resistance managers. However, these people could very well be the ones fighting the change, or struggling to understand it. The right resistance managers are those in senior leadership positions or people management – after all, these are the people your team looks for support and guidance.

  • Senior leaders – can make a compelling case for the need for change and demonstrate their commitment to making it happen. Employees will determine if the change is worth implementing based on the opinions and actions of their senior managers. If your senior leaders appear uncertain or constantly change their minds, team members will deem the change inconsequential and resist it.
  • People managers – are the closest to your workers, who will adopt the change almost daily. So if your managers seem unsettled – or even neutral – to a change, their direct workers will likely follow suit. However, if your managers are supportive and actively encourage the change, the same behaviour will be adopted in their workers.

Managing resistance to change within the workplace doesn’t have to be a battle. With careful planning and extensive prep work, implementing a new change in the workplace can be a smooth and painless transition.  Australian Institute of Business is a registered higher education provider with an array of high-quality tertiary programs for busy working adults, including Australia’s most popular MBA, the Fast-Track MBA. Learn more about our MBA.

*The Australian Institute of Business (AIB) is Australia’s largest provider of MBAs. Source Ready, B. (2023) Domestic Enrolments Surged During COVID After International Students Locked Out, MBA News. Available at: MBA News.

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