Five Techniques for Overcoming Resistance to Change

Written by Paul Arnold Tuesday 05 March 2019
Maintaining momentum during a change programme is one of the major challenges faced by managers

In most cases a resistance to change starts with a manager’s own attitude. The notion that managers may be change resistant themselves is almost a taboo issue, but only once they have dealt with any negativity can they inspire others to do the same.

Managers can follow five steps to promote ongoing change at an organisation.

1. Develop New Change Muscles

Honing your own change muscles starts with recognising self-bias and behaviours.

It is tempting for leaders to see themselves as part of the solution and, less so, as part of the original problem – especially when the decision to change is theirs. However, leaders must reflect on their own role in creating the status quo and, importantly, what they need to do differently to be a role model for change. It is vital that leaders commit to new behaviours.

2. Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

Leaders must acknowledge that the change will inevitably become uncomfortable at some point.

Before change disrupts business performance and unsettles key groups (colleagues and customers, say), leaders must fully comprehend the consequences and impact of the changes they’re championing – and be fully committed to the change, in spite of those challenges.

Fully embracing what they’re signing the company up to, right at the beginning, will enable them to withstand being buffeted by change, as well as ensure they better prepare others too.

3. Be a Filter

In the excitement that comes with a decision to launch change, it’s tempting for leaders to want to see immediate results, and expect others to take on the mantle of execution. They might pass information on to their teams about changes they have visibility of, in a bid to accelerate people’s preparedness for the changes that are coming.

The unforeseen consequence is that teams and individuals start to feel overwhelmed in the face of indiscriminate information; they could be hearing about multiple initiatives, including those that won’t ever affect them.

Leaders should filter out all the other changes that they are personally privy to, to avoid their teams being unnecessarily distracted by ‘noise’.

4. Manage Multiple Expectations

Leaders who are responsible for championing change are likely to be under intense pressure to deliver results. But it’s not realistic to expect that people will get on with it, or that the solution will be pain-free.

Successful change managers understand what the different stakeholders really think and will respond to. They avoid showing frustration with progress and demonstrate a realistic understanding of what it will take to succeed.

5. Communicate Proof-points, Not Promises

It’s tempting for leaders to think the best way to engage their audiences, and secure that all-important support, is to make big bold promises such as “by doing this we’ll become great”; “this change is going to deliver a £500m saving year-on-year from 2020”, or “if we don’t change we’re finished”.

As more and more waves of change occur, there are only so many times that people can get excited by the event.

Rather than frame change in attention-grabbing headlines, successful leaders understand that support from people is much more enduring when it comes from a base of confidence, rather than excitement.

Communicating proof-points – evidence of delivery against set plans – is a powerful way to build confidence that progress is being made. These might include: “we recently opened our new call centre in Gdansk, as part of our continued investment in improving customer service”; “our new CRM platform went live on Monday – a key milestone in our goal of standardising our systems”; or “our Digital Transformation programme has resulted in the operations team in Australia reporting daily data on costs and resourcing as of last month”.

This means the next time change occurs there will already be a sense of achievement, flipping change around to become a more positive and productive experience.

Paul Arnold

Paul Arnold

Paul Arnold is founder of PMA Consulting, and an expert on transformational change and organisational culture. With more than 20 years’ experience consulting in Europe, Africa and the Americas, he has advised and supported organisations on some of the largest changes in recent corporate history