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Wednesday, 11 June 2014 00:00

When change falls flat

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People view change in different ways, and some are more resistant to change than others. Even if you believe the change you've just announced is positive, beneficial on many levels, and an easy sell, there will be employees who react negatively.

Even employees who are highly resilient may not embrace change if you fail to:

  • prepare them,
  • communicate with them along the way, and proactively
  • manage the change process.

When the change you've announced falls flat and you're met with resistance, it's probably a sign that you've made some missteps in preparing and presenting the initiative upfront. If this is the case, don’t panic. All is not lost.

Here are some general guidelines on how to win over the “resistors”:

Get to the bottom of the negative reaction.

Listen to your employees. Give them a nonthreatening forum in which to express their misgivings, fears, and struggles with the change you are proposing. Make sure you understand the nature of their negative reaction and what might be driving it. For example, they don't understand their new role, don't agree with the timing, or perhaps are just reacting to the "surprise" factor. Engaging in this discovery process with employees helps you and your team develop targeted implementation strategies. Equally important, it lets the resistors know that you're listening.

Communicate what you've learned.

Answer all negative responses in future communications. Address each of the issues they brought up in straightforward, clear language. When appropriate, take responsibility for missteps. For instance, if some employees are reacting negatively because you announced the change without adequate warning, admit your mistake and move on. Get employees involved in the forward momentum of the change process. Instead of dwelling on their resistance, get them focusing on where they can go from here — and how you will do it together.

Emphasize the positive.

Continue to be upbeat, and emphasize the potential good in the change. Winning over resistors involves helping them identify aspects of the change they can feel good about. For example, let them know which aspects of their job are changing and which are remaining stable. Point out how the changes will benefit them. Explain new opportunities and fresh possibilities. Above all, reassure them that they will receive ample resources and support necessary to navigate through turbulent times.

Be realistic about potential negatives.

Doctors have learned that when they inform patients ahead of time what to expect, their patients react better to pain. The same is true for employees. Don't minimize the challenges that are going to be a necessary side effect of the proposed change. Instead, prepare them for various contingencies. When employees know there may be lean times, for example, or a steep learning curve ahead, they will be better prepared. Moreover, "telling it like it is" shows respect on your part.

Engage your middle managers.

Think of middle managers as the eyes and ears of the change process. Ask them to check in with employees early and often during the process to ensure that everyone understands their new role, has a clear sense of organizational objectives, and has the resources to do what's expected of them. Have them regularly report back to you what they've learned. Resistance will continue to pop up along the way, but most negative reactions can be avoided or easily averted through frequent, accurate communication and consistent messaging — much of it by middle managers.

When change falls flat, take heart. You may not be able to undo the initial damage you caused by not preparing your employees well enough, but you will be able to win over resistors and make the change process smoother and more successful from this stage forward.

Read 14005 times Last modified on Wednesday, 11 June 2014 17:06

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Beth Banks Cohn, PhD, founder and president of ADRA Change Architects, is dedicated to helping you and your organization reach your full business potential…
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