How to reduce resistance to change

Leaders have always had the challenge of managing resistance to change. But in today’s highly competitive market, characterized by a more rapid rate of change than ever before, it becomes increasingly important to manage resistance to change.

I will talk more about this at my seminar in Bangkok on 23 August.

Here are two articles on this topic:

Resistance to change is a natural reaction when employees are asked, well, to change. Change is uncomfortable and requires new ways of thinking and doing. People have trouble developing a vision of what life will look like on the other side of a change. So, they tend to cling to the known rather than embrace the unknown.

Change produces anxiety and uncertainty. Employees may lose their sense of security. They may prefer the status quo. The range of reactions, when change is introduced, is immense and unpredictable. No employee is left unaffected in most changes. As a result, resistance to change often occurs when change is introduced.

Resistance to change is best viewed as a normal reaction. Even the most cooperative, supportive employees may experience resistance. So, don’t introduce change believing that you will experience nothing but resistance or that resistance will be severe. Instead, introduce change believing that your employees want to cooperate, make the best of each work situation, and that they will fully and enthusiastically support the changes as time goes by.

By your thinking and your approach, you can affect the degree to which resistance to change bogs the change down. You can reduce natural resistance to change by the actions you take and how you involve the employees who will be asked to change.

In a best case scenario, every employee has the opportunity to talk about, provide input to, and impact the change. Rationally, this depends on how big the change is and how many people the change will affect. In a company-wide change effort, for example, the employee input will likely be about how to implement the change at a departmental level, not about whether to make the change in the first place.

These recommendations are made for the millions of managers, supervisors, team leaders, and employees who are asked to change something – or everything – periodically at work. You may or may not have had input into the direction chosen by your executives or your organization. But, as the core doers at work, you are expected to make the changes and deal with any resistance to change that you may experience along the way. You can reduce employee resistance to change by taking these recommended actions.

Manage Resistance to Change
These tips will help you minimize, reduce, and make less painful, the resistance to change that you create as you introduce changes. This is not the definitive guide to managing resistance to change – but implementing these suggestions, will give you a head start.

Own the changes
No matter where the change originated – and change can show up at any point in your organization, even originating with you – you must own the change yourself. It’s your responsibility to implement the change. You can only do that effectively, if you step back, take a deep breath, and plan how you will implement the change with the people you influence in your organization.

Get over it
Okay, you’ve had the opportunity to tell senior managers what you think. You spoke loudly in the focus group. You presented your recommended direction with data and examples to the team. The powers that be or the team leader have chosen a different direction than the one you supported. It’s time for the change to move on. Once the decision is made, your agitating time is over. Whether you disagree or not, once the organization, the group, or the team decides to move on – you need to do everything in your power to make the selected direction succeed.

No biased and fractional support allowed
Even if you don’t support the direction, once the direction is the direction, you owe it 100% support. Wishy-washy or partial support is undermining the change effort. If you can’t buy into the fact that the chosen direction is where you are going, you can, at least, buy into the fact that it is critical that you support it. Once the direction is chosen, it is your job to make it work. Anything less is disrespectful, undermining, and destructive of the team decision.

Recognize that resistance to change is minimized if you have created a trusting, employee-oriented, supportive work environment prior to the change. If you are considered to be honest, and your employees trust you and feel loyal to you, employees are much more likely te get onboard for the change quickly. So, the efforts you have expended in building this type of relationship will serve you well during change. (They will serve you well at work, in general, but especially during times of stress and change.)

Communicate the change
You undoubtedly have reporting staff, departmental colleagues, and employees to whom you must communicate the change. How you communicate the change to the people you influence has the single most important impact on how much resistance to change will occur. If you wholeheartedly communicate the change, you will win the hearts and minds of the employees.

One of the key factors in reducing resistance to change is to implement change in an environment in which there is wide-spread belief that a change is needed. So, one of your first tasks in effective communication is to build the case for why the change was needed. (If the rationale was not communicated to you, and if you are not clear about it yourself, you will have difficulty convincing others, so consult with your manager, first.)

Specifically inform the employees about what your group can and cannot affect
Spend time discussing how to implement the change and make it work. Answer questions; honestly share your earlier reservations, but state that you are onboard and going to make the change work. Ask the employees to join you in that endeavor because only the team can make the change happen. Stress that you have knowledge, skills, and strengths that will help move the team forward, and so does each of the team members. All are critical.

Help the employees identify what’s in it for them to make the change
A good portion of the normal resistance to change disappears when employees are clear about the benefits the change brings to them as individuals. Benefits to the group, the department, and the organization should be stressed, too. But, nothing is more important to an individual employee than to know the positive impact on their own career or job.

Additionally, employees must feel that the time, energy, commitment, and focus necessary to implement the change are compensated equally by the benefits they will attain from making the change. Happier customers, increased sales, a pay raise, saved time and steps, positive notoriety, recognition from the boss, more effective, productive employees, and an exciting new role or project are examples of ways in which you can help employees feel compensated for the time, energy, focus, change, and challenge that any change requires.

Listen deeply and empathetically to the employees
You can expect that the employees will experience the same range of emotions, thoughts, agreement, and disagreement that you experienced when the change was introduced to you or when you participated in creating the change. Never minimize an employee’s response to even the most simple change. You can’t know or experience the impact from an individual employee’s point of view. Maybe the change seems insignificant to many employees, but the change will seriously impact another employee’s favorite task. Hearing the employees out and letting them express their point of view in a non-judgmental environment will reduce resistance to change.

Empower employees to contribute
Control of their own jobs is one of the five key factors in what employees want from work. So, too, this control aspect follows when you seek to minimize resistance to change. Give the employees control over any aspect of the change that they can manage. If you have communicated transparently, you have provided the direction, the rationale, the goals, and the parameters that have been set by your organization. Within that framework, your job is to empower the employees to make the change work. Practice effective delegation and set the critical path points at which you need feedback for the change effort – and get out of the way.

Create an organization-wide feedback and improvement loop

Do these steps mean that the change that was made is the right or optimal change? Not necessarily. You must maintain an open line of communication throughout your organization to make sure that feedback reaches the ears of th employees leading the charge. Changing course or details, continuous improvement, and tweaking is a natural, and expected, part of any organizational change. Most changes are not poured in concrete but there must be a willingness to examine the improvement (plan – do – study – act).

If you implement your change in an organizational environment that is employee-oriented, with transparent communication and a high level of trust, you have a huge advantage. But, even in the most supportive environment, you must understand and respond to the range of human emotions and responses that are elicited during times of intense change.

Source:, Susan M. Heathfield, 2012



Understand why people are resisting the change. Reasons may include:
– They believe the change is unnecessary or will make things worse.
– They don’t trust the people leading the change effort.
– They don’t like the way the change was introduced.
– They are not confident the change will succeed.
– They feel that change will mean personal loss — of security, money, status, or friends.
– They’ve already experienced a lot of change and can’t handle any more disruption.

Encourage employees to openly express their thoughts and feelings about the change program.

Listen carefully to their concerns, explore their fears, and take their comments seriously.

Engage them in the planning and implementation processes.

Identify those who have something to lose, and anticipate how they might respond.

Help them find new roles either in your group or somewhere else in the organization—roles that represent genuine contributions and mitigate their losses.

Source: Harvard Business Reviw, 2012

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