HR/BENEFITS

4 Reasons Your Employees Resist Change--And How to Overcome Them

Entrepreneurs get excited about change, but for staff members, it can be downright threatening. Here's how to get them on board.
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As an entrepreneur, your challenge is to create, re-create, and move ahead. In doing so, you have to appreciate that, while you’re charging full steam ahead, others may be a bit more cautious, or even fearful, about the change you’re trying to create.

As a pragmatic leader, you need to understand why others resist your ideas. That means focusing not just on where you want to go but also on the hesitations of others.

In order to successfully lead change, you have to create an environment of safety for those who would support you. To do this, you must:

Sustain the sense of competency

Over time, your employees become comfortable with the knowledge they possess, the skills they have mastered, and the nuances of their jobs. This is what gives them a sense of competency. Change threatens this safety.

Tinkering with your team’s mission, culture, or work processes invariably means that you’re altering whole sections of people’s work activities. Though some people thrive on a new set of challenges, others wince and feel vulnerable. Change, for them, means learning new skills and giving up the stuff they’re great at. Change may challenge their competency.

As a leader, you have to address this concern directly. Offer your team members strategies to deal with new expectations. A clear explanation of the new tasks, combined with a generous adjustment period, allows individuals to relax and accept change with less reluctance.

Reduce the fear of failure

We all fear failure. At best, this makes us hesitate. At worst, it leads to total stagnation.

No one wants to accept new responsibilities only to mess up and look bad.

Change easily draws out an individual’s fears. Individuals don’t just fear failure; they also fear what comes with failure: being laid off, missing out on a promotion, not getting a bonus… The list goes on.

It’s your job as a leader to be sympathetic to this fear and to set policies that will indulge mistakes during the transition. You must publicly affirm your belief that with change comes a period of confusion, and that you are willing to accept the occasional blunder. As a leader, you can create a safe learning environment if you let others know that you believe a blunder can be a great teacher, and that mastery and achievement are the result of many mistakes.

Ensure the stability of status

Change often alters a team’s structure, which in turn may alter who reports to whom and who gets the final say on what. Some rightfully fret that their current position and status may be lessened or even threatened.

In this situation, you must be sensitive to the subtleties of status. You need to preserve the social status of those who are most affected by your change initiative.

Make the unfamiliar comfortable

There’s a reason people have habits and stick with them. Habits are familiar, and people like what’s familiar.

Take away my morning coffee and paper, and I get grumpy. Take away someone’s routine and replace it with something unfamiliar, and you’ll create anxiety and, in turn, resistance.

In order to create safety for others, it’s best to implement change incrementally. Try to implement parts of your change agenda slowly to give people time to become accustomed to your new ideas.

If you need to move quickly, ask people for patience. Instead of reviewing every part of your change initiative before it happens, they’ll have to review it after the fact. After a few weeks of living with the new regime, ask people to identify what they like, and what they don’t, about the transformation. From there, conversation will revolve around concrete matters, not merely the anxiety of the unfamiliar.

Being cognizant of the four reasons individuals resist change, and being aware of others’ hesitations, will create safety for those who support your agenda but are wary of its consequences.

When dealing with resistance, keep in mind that you don’t want to squelch it. There may be rational and empirical reasons to resist change, and you want to hear about those. But by creating a sense of safety, you make it clear that anxiety is not one of them.

Last updated: Apr 17, 2013

SAMUEL B. BACHARACH | Columnist | Director, Cornell's Institute of Workplace Studies

Samuel B. Bacharach is the McKelvey-Grant professor in the department of organizational behavior at Cornell University's ILR School, and is director of Cornell's Institute for Workplace Studies in New York City. Among his books are Get Them on Your Side and Keep Them on Your Side. His latest volume, A Good Idea Is Not Enough: Leading for Change and Innovation, will be published this November by BLG.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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