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Everyone Hates Change: 12 Steps to Help Overcome the Fear and Doubt

Debra Sunohara

Everyone knows—and in theory agrees—that change is necessary.  It must and will occur.

Implementing change is hard. And making it stick is even harder whether you are following Kotter’s Eight Steps to Changeor David Ulrich’s Seven Key Factors for Making Change Happen.

Irrespective of your organization’s change capacity, you may encounter some employees who resist change. But what do you do when a key person on your team just can’t or won’t adapt to change? When almost everyone is on-board, except for those few resisters? How do you influence your employee’s behavior and get them to “switch"?

How you handle this situation will test your leadership skills.  It can be frustrating, and may even make you question whether or not the planned change is right for your organization.

In the workplace, many people resist the kinds of organizational change that introduces:

  • New technology;
  • New work processes or tools;
  • Policies and procedures;
  • Reorganization, downsizings, takeovers, mergers, out-sourcing, and joint ventures; or,
  • New co-workers or team members.

Signs of Trouble

When your employee is resisting change, they may show signs of:

  • Frustration;
  • Appearing uncomfortable;
  • Disappointment;
  • Resentment;
  • Low-morale;
  • Depression;
  • Distrust, mistrust, or lack of trust; or,
  • Feelings of sadness, loss, and anxiety about the future.

You may also notice an increase in employee:Impossible unattainable-300x199

  • Stress, anxiety, absenteeism, and illness;
  • Mistakes and failures; or,
  • Turnover.

And a decrease in:

  • Cooperation and teamwork;
  • Productivity; and,
  • Quality.

It’s not just difficult personalities

Although you may encounter some employees with “difficult personalities” that resist change, most who do refuse to adapt to change do so for other reasons. You may be able to predict which employees may have difficult reactions to change if they lack coping skills and/or a support system.

Some people can’t or won’t adapt to change because they:

  • Fear the unknown;
  • Associate change with “loss”;
  • Find learning new things difficult;
  • Have lost control of the content and timing of what they do—which can in turn lead to stress, burnout and depression;
  • Have a valid reason to challenge the change initiative;
  • Are uncomfortable and agitated—having lost the comfort level of the “way things used to be”—as creatures of habit do not like to have their regular routines disturbed;
  • Are simply difficult—they like the attention of being a “key” player and in this case the “resister”.

But, as a leader, it’s important to bear in mind that the resistance is not always a function of the people:

  • The environment or situation—change theenvironment and there may no longer be a problem.
  • The change has not been clearly defined, communicated or understood.
  • The new procedures add complications, complexity, and waste time.

When Change Resistance is a Red Flag

When the person who resists the change is the one you would least expect to do so, you need to seriously consider if they have a valid reason.

If they are a valued team member, are respected and trusted by your other employees, and are normally are onboard with changes—you need to quickly take stock of the situation:

  • How will the change affect your employees—will it result in extra work?
  • Should your employees be focused on finishing something rather than on the new change?
  • Can you identify the root cause of the resistance?
  • Will the change result in an overall negative impact for many employees?

Feedback you receive from these employees early in the change process may be key to allowing you to make the corrections that are necessary to get the change initiative back on track.

What not to do:

  • Don’t use jargon monoxide—communicate in terms that employees can understand.
  • Don’t try to argue with a stubborn employee.
  • Don’t use threats of negative consequences to force compliance.
  • Don’t negotiate, bribe, or make promises in exchange for compliance.
  • Don’t give too many choices or options for change actions—they might not choose any.
  • Don’t downplay—be honest and open about how your employees will be affected by the change.
  • Don’t take advantage of your employees—they know when they are doing the work of two or more people yet are not being compensated for it.

12 Things you can and should do:

  1. Start by finding out why there is resistance—change begins with listening and you should solicit both positive and negative feedback from employees.
  2. Improve and increase communication—hold more meetings, not fewer; assess your communication needs and what forms of communication would be most effective.
  3. Focus on what has worked rather than what has not.
  4. Use peer pressure as a motivator—knowing that co-workers have already accepted and are adapting to the change can steer an employee in the direction of acceptance.
  5. Use positive motivation not fear—in the current economic and SOR induced climate, there is already enough fear and stress in the workplace.
  6. Provide assurance—remind them of the benefits the change will bring: faster processes, increased productivity and a lighter workload!
  7. Provide supportand ease them into the reality—make your staff aware of the help they will have during the initial transition period; offer and provide extra support whenever needed.
  8. Underline the cost advantagesthat will result from the proposed changes.
  9. Keep things simple—stick to baby steps to avoid overwhelming change resisters.
  10. Recognize and acknowledgeincreased demands, workloads and pressures on your employees—a simple thank you can go a long way.
  11. Celebrate accomplishments!
  12. Set realistic expectations, don’t set yourself up for failure—change takes time.

All of this should lead us to consider what you can do to prevent or minimize resistance and prepare for change.

My gut response is that it all boils down to leadership; if your employees trust you and believe in you, then they are more likely to follow you.  So  makeSo make sure to plan, communicate, involve, train and support the way to change.


Have you dealt with any employees who have resisted adapting to change? Let us know about it in the comments.



Download our new eBook:

Managing Change: A Workbook for personal and organizational changeManaging change ebook cover-280x230









Debra, there are some great points in that list.  It could easily have been a 30 point list, I’m sure.

I would like to reflect on #11 specifically - celebrate accomplishments.  I think that this is one of the most overlooked keys in driving change.  Managers must be careful to build “small victories” into their change initiatives—especially during the early going when everyone is struggling to overcome the inertia of the “old ways”.

Build in small victories and celebrate the successes publicly—it will help dramatically in building the overall momentum of the change transformation!

By Geoff Schaadt on 2011/11/03

Thanks, Geoff. I couldn’t agree with you more. In fact, in John Kotter’s October 25th post on Forbes he addresses publicizing, promoting and praising employees change efforts.

By Debra on 2011/11/03

I would like to emphasize two sources of resistance that are the most difficult to deal with, requiring more than simple communication and/or education.  The first is when real (as opposed to perceived) ‘interests’ are threatened by the change - this may require a structural solution and even some compromise on the change itself.  The second is when the very ‘identity’ of the resistor is threatened - this will require attention to issues of culture, particularly the symbolic implications, for a solution.

Managers need to be reminded that resistance is sometimes a rational response to change and this needs to be acknowledged in the change management approach.

By Greg Tricklebank on 2011/11/23

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