‘Change/ Transformation Management’ is exactly what it sounds like: the management of attempts to alter a business’s established structure, processes, culture, management styles, or anything else. In today’s high-velocity corporate environments, solid change management practices have gained a great deal of value for businesses that want to remain competitive.
Unfortunately, human beings are, ultimately, creatures of habit. It’s certainly no different when it comes to our jobs. We prefer to have consistent processes we can stick to for the sake of saving time and keeping as focused. Regardless of how complex or senior an individual’s role may be, this rule will almost always apply in one form or another. As a result, resistance to change management initiatives can come from virtually anywhere.
That is not to say that change managers themselves don’t deserve at least some of the blame for when transformation initiatives go wrong. Too often, changes are enforced in a way that bypasses the protest and feedback of those affected by them. Rather than giving employees any input, or even sufficient warning, regarding the nature of a change or how it will be implemented, many managers will simply force it through.
When initiatives meet resistance, the result can be a lack of adequate support not only from employees and supervisors but also managers and even business stakeholders. This can severely limit the resulting benefits of a change, wasting invested time and resources and depriving the company of the chance to get a leg-up on competitors.
So, what can change managers do to alleviate resistance to essential change initiatives? Here are the most important rules to follow when managing resistance to change.
What are the biggest causes of resistance to change?
Why do change initiatives fail? There can be a variety of reasons:
- A lack of communication on what needs to be changed, why, and what the benefits will be
- Poor timing for the change
- Fear of job losses or downsizing following improvements
- Uncertainty with what is going on or who will be affected
- Increased workloads as a result of a change
- A lack of help from managers and supervisors
Managing resistance to change:
There’s an old adage that applies to change initiatives just as well as any other element of business: if something can go wrong, it probably will.
When causing upheaval, especially to well-entrenched structures and practices, change teams should expect resistance on some level. This could simply mean a lack of enthusiasm for adopting new processes or even outright refusal and resistance from those who see proposed changes as detrimental.
Any good change manager will take a proactive approach to resistance, working to predict where it will take place by asking questions like:
- Who established the current way of working?
- Did anybody have their own ideas that lost out to mine?
- Who is invested in the status quo?
- Who will have to work hardest to adapt?
- Who has benefited the most from the status quo?
Work in stages
Implementing change in a business is not like flipping a switch. Rather, it is a journey that must be planned and managed with structure and consistency. Remember, change management is not simply about handling the impact of change; rather, it is about taking full control of the change itself.
To start with, a change manager will require a clear idea of the benefits of and reasoning behind proposed changes. They will also need to carefully consider who to include in their change team while also working to predict who is most likely to be affected by the initiative.
It is also important to manage the change itself at a steady pace. The change team can continually refer back to targets to identify whether any lag is taking place and can communicate with affected teams and departments to judge whether additional support is required.
An added benefit of taking this kind of iterative approach is that it can create cumulative tangible benefits. Similar to Agile projects, short-term goals in change management initiatives can start benefiting employees quickly, in contrast to long-term goals that only pay off once the whole process is completed. This, in turn, can help change teams to build support for the rest of the initiative.
Engage with employees
Communicating the nature and necessity of a significant change initiative will always be fundamental for its success. Why is the change taking place? How will it affect day to day operations? How will it improve performance metrics? Most importantly, how can different groups benefit?
Ideally, communication and engagement should take place throughout a change initiative. Keeping staff up to date with frequent updates and communication can go a long way in reducing anxieties over what is taking place. It will also give them a chance to share insight and concerns that the change team may need to take on board.
For example, when implementing new software, experienced team members may well be familiar with it. In this case, they may have feedback about whether it is indeed the best possible option, or they may even be able to aid in upskilling colleagues. Without taking senior staff members into account, change teams could miss out on a treasure trove of valuable insight.
Change teams can make this easier by establishing and specifying clear communication channels early on. This can include specifying who to contact for specific inquiries or setting up scheduling or communication tools such as Monday and Slack.
Identify those likely to oppose change
A certified change manager familiar with the ins and outs of their organization should be able to predict where resistance to change is most likely to occur. Of course, this should also be complemented by engaging with relevant teams, departments, and stakeholders. By taking the time to identify and speak with these groups, change teams can pinpoint the source of their worries and plan around them in advance.
It will always be important to explain to these groups exactly how they can benefit from the proposed changes in a way that resonates with them. To put it another way, have an answer ready for when someone asks the equivalent of ‘what’s in it for me?’.
You should also take the time to establish a connection between their own concerns and the big picture. For many, convincing them to weather the transitioning period for their own day to day practices will require justification in terms of strategic value. If you can find a way to clearly emphasize how proposed changes will optimize value creation, counter-arguments to do with inconvenience will hold a lot less water.
Engage senior leaders and stakeholders
One of the most effective ways to enforce changes is to get support from managers and stakeholders early on. That is not to say that you should ask them to stamp out any resistance, but rather make it so that they are actively advocating the initiative.
Obviously, this will require a change team to identify the needs and priorities of stakeholders, managers, and supervisors and to communicate the benefits of proposed changes on their terms. Translating projected benefits into the most appropriate metrics should be a priority. Where is your organization experiencing tangibly negative performance, and how do you predict your proposed changes will have an impact? Delivering regular updates in this vein will also be important for continuing to justify the initiative.
You should also look out for instances where stakeholder priorities have the potential to clash. For example, while a legacy system or an outsourced service provider may be delivering results that are less than optimal, certain executives may forgive it as long as it remains cheaper than proposed alternatives.
An important thing to note is that engaging leaders and stakeholders is also crucial for obtaining adequate support for change initiatives. This can be in the form of resources, allocated time, prioritization, access to key managers, and so on.
Studying change management
As we have tried to make clear, change management is not a simple process but one that requires structured planning and a proactive approach. Rather than creating a framework based purely on trial and error, one of the best ways for you to optimize change management within your organization will be to invest in change management certification training.
The APMG Change Management framework is a proven framework that offers tools, best practices, and insight that can not only help managers reduce resistance to change but also optimize the efficiency, direction, and overall benefits of all transformation initiatives. It was developed by APMG International in collaboration with the Change Management Institute (CMI) and is based on years of experience and insight found in the Change Management Body of Knowledge (CMBoK).