3-minute read

Think about the last change you led or participated in with a group at work or in your personal life. How much resistance was there to the change? Were you resistant? Since our brains register change as pain, it’s natural for there to be resistance to change. How can you lessen the natural pain of change, identify reasons for resistance, and overcome the resistance against your next organizational change?

Start with clarity and positivity

One way to lessen the pain of change is to provide employees with clarity around the reason, vision, and plan for the change. As Carnegie Mellon researchers Russell Golman and George Loewenstein write, “The desire for clarity is consistent with an underlying drive for simplicity and sense-making.”

One first step that you can take is to get yourself in a positive headspace by embracing the resistance as a potential benefit for your change. You can use the resistance to inspire discussions and gain constructive feedback. Gathering ideas from a diverse group of uncommon suspects is a great way to begin building buy-in for your change. Use this feedback to refine the message for the change and develop a clear vision in which most employees can see themselves participating. It may be hard or even impossible to convince everyone to advocate for your change, but positive momentum can overcome negativity as long as you have a super majority on the positive side.

Trust, role modeling, and accountability are key

Throughout the entire change process, you want to build and maintain trust. It’s important to focus on key stakeholders first because they can serve as role models in the process. You should do everything you can to create a culture of psychological safety since change can be emotional. This means that employees feel they can take risks and experiment; they can express themselves without fear of failure or retribution. All employees also understand the organization’s intentions with the change and see leadership’s and key stakeholder’s actions matching their words. Trust isn’t built overnight, so if your organization doesn’t currently have a psychologically safe culture, you should prioritize building this culture before tackling large transformational changes.

Release power to empower

Next, empower everyone in the change process. Instead of telling people that they must change in the way that you have decided, which can generate resistance, you sincerely involve them in designing, implementing, and sustaining the change. Bring numerous people who will experience the change into the decision-making process as soon as possible, and allow them to help you create the road map for the change. This not only creates excitement but will gather more effective ideas because your people on the front lines can bring their perspectives to the table. We all have blind spots in our organizations so gathering diverse perspectives will help you avoid potential roadblocks.

Out with the old, In with the new

Lean into the power of habit. Effective leaders will work to intentionally shift old behaviors to the desired new behaviors. Generating excitement about working in the new way and celebrating those who quickly adopt the change will begin to build a solid foundation for the change to stick.

There is always uncertainty about new ways of working and concern for what the future may hold. Uncertainty can result in anxiety, stress, conflict, and resistance. Proper training for new roles can greatly help employees embrace the change. By lessening the uncertainty and helping employees feel confident in their new role with training, we raise the likelihood that the change will be successfully adopted.

Questions to ask your team when encountering change

• Why might my employees be resistant to change?

• Are any employees in the dark about the change?

• Could communication be more targeted to each stakeholder group?

• Is there a negative perception of the change?

• Do all employees have the skills and tools to adopt the change?

• Has the need for change been communicated well enough?

• Is the vision clear?

• Has the vision been communicated sufficiently?

• Does everyone understand their role in the change and what’s in it for them?

Like what you see?

Paul Lee

Allison Todd is a manager at Logic20/20 with diverse experience in organizational change, government, team building, administration, management, and leadership.