Part 2: How to effectively reduce resistance when implementing change initiatives

April 14, 2021 | Leadership and Organizational Development, Leadership und Organisationsentwicklung

As an executive, the situation described below is surely one you are familiar with: You want to implement a change in your area, have come up with a new strategy, and have set the relevant goals and KPIs with your staff. Yet, you are confronted with resistance among your staff.

Staufen change management experts Dr. Dirk Bayas-Linke and Ulrich Beck explain in a series of three blog articles where you will likely encounter the six potential origins of this kind of “resistance” and how you, as the leader, can effectively work with your staff to eliminate them. In the following article, they will discuss the third and fourth typical reasons why you might encounter resistance during the change process.

3. The past is still deeply felt

Potential reason for resistance:

Anytime that new targets and KPIs are introduced, those old targets that officially are no longer valid continue to exist. What might happen in some cases is that the focus is placed on the old KPIs, which prevents a new KPI from being achieved. The organization as such just cannot believe that other KPIs are now relevant. This example illustrates how important it is to look at the structural framework in which people can behave. When it comes to change, we should always keep an eye on all three system levels – “organization,” “person, function and role” and “teams” – when implementing changes. In our “The Change Compass: How to Effectively Plan and Control Change Processes” blog article, we looked into this in great detail. Imagine that, from now on, you are to focus on entirely different KPIs than before, for example, the lead time of the individual product instead of the degree of utilization of the equipment. Yet, the reward model, which may have financial implications for the individual, is still calculating based on the old figures, for example in a case in which a solution has not yet been found to reliably and fairly calculate the new figures and have them entered into the systems. Another example might be a situation in which some members of your staff find it difficult to “part with” the old metrics, e.g., because they identify strongly with them and have celebrated many successes based on them, or because they themselves may in fact have established these KPIs in the past. In this case, you frequently have to deal with, “micro-upsets” if your people are forced to break away from their laurels.

How you as the leader could approach this:

Give some thought to the past experiences of your team. In it, you may find many explanations – and solutions! What does the history of your organization look like? How were announcements implemented in the past? Was it perhaps similar to how the pig used to be herded through town? If the staff can count on every announcement being followed by action, as has been the case in the past, they are more likely to get moving. If, though, they have learned that announcements are more likely to be followed by reassurance, they will probably wait and see. We generally associate resistance with renitent behavior on the part of individuals. On closer inspection, however, we realize that people behave exactly along the lines set by the framework. This does not mean that certain mechanisms also give rise to resistance at the personal level. However, we have the structural level much less on our radar than the personal level.

Here, too, seek an open dialog with your staff. Involve your employees through a trusting exchange and plenty of reflection. The more plausible and comprehensible the change is described and in the minds of the workforce, the easier it will be for everyone to adopt new approaches. By the way, this does not mean that every necessary change requires a “circle of chairs”. Read more about “Face Reality” in our blog article “The Change Compass: How to Effectively Plan and Control Change Processes“.

4. Personal feelings are given higher priority than the objectives of the organization

Potential reason for resistance:

What sometimes happens is that employees put their individual feelings above the objectives of the organization. Your employees may have personal goals that are not compatible with your new objectives. For example, imagine the following situation: For strategic reasons, a site is merged with another site 20 km away. No big deal, but there will be winners and losers who are open or critical to the change.

How you as the leader could approach this:

The point of view of the person, who for personal reasons is against a change and therefore feels resistance is generally easy to understand. Find out what it is! Address it and show that you understand the situation and can comprehend where the employee is coming from. Discuss with the employee what a potential solution might look like in order for this person to be able to “go along” with the objective. Yet, do not leave any doubt as to whether or not the change will take place. In any event, leave it up to the person to decide whether he or she will participate or not. Express your expectations. Be sincere. You may need to point out the consequences if the person decides not to “contribute.” Once an employee has understood that they need to change their own behavior and that the move is inevitable, you will have moved a big step forward.

Nevertheless, you may keep in mind that you have made an “agreement” with the person in question (in the context of his or her position within the organization/company): the person has agreed to behave in line with the agreed function and role the person holds in your organization. They are receiving compensation for their role in return. It may be that the person’s position will need to be renegotiated to match any major change. However, the decision to continue in this position usually rests with the individual and is their responsibility. This person alone can weigh the pros and cons and make a decision on the ambivalence between his or her own personal goals and those of the organization.

Would you like to read more about the typical reasons for resistance that arise during a change process? Go to our first article here, and here to our third and final article of the series.

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