5 Ways to Overcome Change Resistance in Your Organization

When faced with the idea of change management, many people think of detailed plans for decision-making, communication and implementation. Others talk about change management as an afterthought to implementing a major change within an organization. The challenge with these mindsets is that there is often not enough emphasis placed on the people part of the change. To manage change well, the people who are affected need to be given as much consideration as the process, technology and financial angles. After all, people are needed if the change is to be successful.

Differentiating Change from Transition

In the simplest terms, change is the thing that happens; it’s usually an external event such as a change in leadership or the deployment of a new strategy. It is also typically inevitable. While many people are uncomfortable with change for a variety of reasons, on a basic level, we all come to terms with change as a fact of life. On the other hand, the transition is where the work must happen. William Bridges is considered an expert on change, and his research, books, seminars and consultations focus on providing methods for organizations to deliver better approaches to transitions. He defined transitions as the “psychological process that people go through as they internalize and come to terms with the new situation that the change brings about.”

If businesses are to manage change successfully, it starts by understanding the transitional phase as distinct from the change itself.

Focusing on People’s Needs

Bridges points to the need to embrace the ending for the transition to begin. The first stage of his model directly faces the resistance people are likely to have, along with the emotional upheaval that comes along with forcing people from their comfort zones. A range of emotions, from fear and anger to uncertainty and frustration, are likely to be present and leaders must be equipped to guide their workers. The second stage is the Neutral Zone, the bridge between the old and the new. Here is where people are equipped for the new reality while continuing to overcome challenges such as resentment, anxiety and low morale.

In a similar approach, the ADKAR model comes from an organization founded by Bell Labs engineer Jeff Hiatt. The five-step model starts with awareness: making sure employees understand the changes and why they are necessary. Next is desire: translating reasons into personal motivating factors for workers. The third step is knowledge: providing education and mentoring to close knowledge gaps while overcoming challenges and resistance factors.

Another change expert, John Kotter, has dedicated his career to researching change and then helping businesses implement actionable processes. His 8-Step process begins with similar steps of assisting others in understanding the need for change and visualizing the new future and then building a coalition to bring about buy-in and to overcome barriers.

Each model has a slightly different approach, but all begin at the same place. What will your workers need to overcome emotional obstacles and resistance to change while also building comfort and confidence with concrete skills and personal guidance?

Getting to the Other Side

Drawing from these experts and experiences with organizations, here are some concrete steps for managing change in your organization.

  1. Create Guides. Kotter recommends a coalition, and the ADKAR model calls for a visible sponsor. Whomever your guides are, they should facilitate the transition by working with leaders and managers to champion the change, motivate others, align priorities and be accessible throughout the transition.
  2. Dedicate Enough Resources. This is where organizations will have an opportunity to demonstrate their focus on the people who are most affected by the change and who are likely to be most responsible for the minute implementation details. It is critical to allocate enough resources to every aspect, including emotional support and tangible skills training.
  3. Generate Buy-In. Kotter advises highlighting “WIIFM,” or “what’s in it for me?” as a way to help people see not just their role in the change, but also how the new methods will bring about positive impacts for them individually. The Bridges model counsels leaders to be patient during the transition, especially if it seems like progress isn’t being made, and to create goals with quick wins to improve motivation and give everyone a positive perception of the transition.
  4. Find Allies in Middle Management. Because of their position in the middle, this group can either be a catalyst for resistance or a close ally during transitional times. Effective communication is critical, including one-on-one sessions and group meetings. Equip this group with all the tools they need to be allies, including an understanding of the reasons behind the change, tools and support for their teams, and involvement during the early phases of the change – especially while planning roll-outs of new methods, protocols or other daily functions.
  5. Look for the New Beginning.The final stage of Bridges’ model is the new beginning, the stage at which people are open to learning and are newly committed to their role in the company while keeping an eye out for slipping into old habits. Kotter’s model builds this idea into a few steps where quick wins are used to drive acceleration until new behaviors and successes replace old habits. ADKAR concludes with reinforcement, or the stage where the focus is on sustaining the new ways rather than further transition. In all three models and every experience, this step happens slowly and not everyone will reach it at the same time. The key is to recognize when the first few reach this step and maintain the momentum until the entire team crosses the finish line together.

A New Future

Eckhart Tolle once said that “some changes look negative on the surface but you will soon realize that space is being created in your life for something new to emerge.” In business, the purpose of change is almost always to make room for the new and improved. By taking the time and resources necessary to focus on what the individuals who make up your workforce need to not only survive changes, but also to embrace them and prosper, you’ll be focusing on the most vital area to ensure long-term success for your organization.