Employee resistance to change is one of the most perplexing and challenging issues that business executives encounter. Senior leaders have mapped out a change initiative and, in the process, gotten themselves excited about the future only to find the rest of the organization doesn’t share their enthusiasm.
This resistance manifests in various ways, such as decreased productivity, higher rates of employee turnover and transfer requests, attitudes, unauthorized strikes, or work slowdowns. And in trying to overcome resistance to change, leaders often make structured, logical arguments for why the change is needed.
Arguments that fail to persuade.
What’s often overlooked is that employee resistance to change is most likely due to the emotions behind the change, not the change itself. And in examining those emotions, the late Carl Frost offered four key questions that people ask themselves when they’re being asked to change. The answers to these questions determine their excitement, or resistance, to change.
In this article, we will explore how to overcome resistance to change by addressing the emotions behind it and we’ll offer advice on how leaders can answer those four questions.
Question 1: Do we know where we’re going?
A clear and compelling vision of the future is necessary to overcome resistance to change. It is important to paint a clear picture of what the future of the organization looks like and include the individual being asked to make the change in that vision. When employees can see themselves as a part of the future, they are more likely to embrace the change. Additionally, it is crucial to ensure that the vision is shared at every level of the organization. This helps create a sense of unity and purpose, making it easier for employees to align themselves with the change.
By providing a clear direction and involving employees in the vision, leaders can address the uncertainty and fear that often accompany change. When employees have a clear understanding of where the organization is heading, they are less likely to resist and more likely to actively participate in the change process.
Question 2: Do we know why we’re going there?
Communicating the reasons for the change effectively is essential in overcoming resistance. Employees need to understand the changes in regulation, competition, or the economy that necessitate the change. It is important to avoid nostalgia for the old times before the change, as this can hinder progress. Instead, leaders should focus on selling people on why the change is necessary and beneficial.
By clearly explaining the rationale behind the change, leaders can address any doubts or concerns employees may have. When employees understand the need for change and how it will positively impact the organization, they are more likely to embrace it and actively contribute to its success.
Question 3: Do we know we can get there?
Confidence in the organization’s ability to achieve the vision is crucial for overcoming resistance to change. Leaders must build belief in the organization’s capacity to reach the new future. This can be done by addressing concerns about skills, resources, and capabilities. It is important to create a plan to acquire necessary skills and resources, ensuring that employees have the support and tools they need to succeed.
By addressing concerns and providing the necessary resources, leaders can instill confidence in employees and alleviate their fears about the change. When employees believe that the organization has the capability to achieve the vision, they are more likely to embrace the change and actively work towards its realization.
Question 4: Do we know that there is better than here?
Individuals need to believe that the change will benefit them personally in order to lessen their resistance. Leaders should paint a compelling picture of the change in their role and how it will be better. It is important to show how the change will result in personal growth and improvement. Additionally, leaders should address concerns about sacrifices, extra time, and learning new skills.
By addressing the personal benefits of the change and addressing personal concerns, leaders can help employees see the value in embracing the change. When employees understand how the change will positively impact their own lives, they are more likely to overcome resistance and actively engage in the change process.
Overcoming resistance to change is crucial for successful change initiatives. By addressing the emotions behind the change and answering the four questions, leaders can increase excitement, self-efficacy, and confidence in the change. That helps the organizational change itself find success and (hopefully) that success empowers every employee to do their best work ever.
About the author
David Burkus is an organizational psychologist, keynote speaker, and bestselling author of five books on leadership and teamwork.