How do you deal with resistance to change? What do you do when you want to lead change, but your employees, your team members, your colleagues, perhaps even your boss, is fighting you at every corner? That is the subject of today’s conversation.
What do you do if you are starting a change process in your company, when you want to make things better, make something improved, but your company is fighting you, your employees are fighting you, your team members are fighting you? Your boss is also fighting you. There are tons of things we can say on resistance to change, but today I want to speak with you three things. There are many methods how to approach this issue, but I want to start with the foundation — three things upon which you build.
Every company and every business leader needs to know these three foundational things. One of them is kind of short-term, immediate: what do you do when you are already dealing with resistance to change when you are already introducing change? Maybe it’s a new strategy, maybe it’s a new market or a new product. Maybe it’s a new process, a procedure, a new organizational structure. You are already dealing with change, and you are already fighting with resistance.
Second, it’s a kind of mid-term. You know change is coming, maybe you have a few weeks or few months, and you want to prevent things from happening. And the third solution is really long-term, the big picture: how do you prepare your company for many changes that are coming, again, and again, and again?
Number one! Short-term: how do you fight resistance to change? The short answer to that — you don’t! I’ve done a whole special issue of Chief Reinvention Officer on the biology of fear of change. Why are we biologically predisposed to hate change so much, and how can we deal with that? And the essence of the message in that video is simple. People are wired to hate change, and if you try to work against biology, that’s been here for millions and millions of years, you are most likely to lose. So why fight? Instead, embrace it. Use the fear of change as an energy, as a resource rather than fight it.
Practically, what does it mean? When I come to a company and work with that company on a major change process, I give a chance at the beginning of the change process for people to feel very upset. And I join them in. When people are in front of me and say, this sucks, I agree, it really does suck. Even for me, a person who is professionally wired for change, I hate Change all the time, it sucks. It’s messy. It’s difficult. It requires you to do so many unpleasant things. Why should we pretend it is the other way round and try to put a polish kind of package around it, and say that change is an amazing thing? We all know change is hard — admit it.
So how do you fight resistance to change in the short-term? You don’t. You let your people express the negativity and you use that negativity to move on. Giving that permission for short period of time to be very upset, clears the slate. It removes all the quiet resistance; it puts it out on the surface so you can use it. Once that part is through, you proceed with the next moves and see if it is possible for everyone to choose a different option, to choose a different emotion. Strategy Number One: Don’t fight it, join it.
Strategy Number Two, when change is coming and we still have a little time: an important thing about resistance in this context is that most of us can be upset about change when we have no say in it. When we have absolutely no chance to participate in the shaping of what’s coming to our company. When I say this to senior executives; when I said it to a CEO of a major hundred thousand employee company recently, he got this reaction: OMG, I cannot give up control. What do you say? Should we let everyone, including the cleaning lady, decide the strategy of the company? Yes and No.
What I am saying is that most people are not necessarily requiring for the company to agree with their proposal, to agree with their suggestion, but the absolute majority of people in the company, including the cleaning lady — and there’s a lot to be said about the loyalty, the hard working of the cleaning ladies all around the businesses and how much they make a difference — ALL of us have something to suggest. We don’t always need for our bosses to agree with us, but we do always expect to be heard.
So just if you create a platform, an opportunity for people to express their opinion, that will already make a huge difference, because once people’s opinions are expressed, even if they are rejected in a meaningful and respected way, people will feel like they are part of the solution, part of the conversation. Once they co-own the solution with you, they are less likely to fight it.
What happens if you already have the decision, if you get the decision from your superiors, maybe your board already made the decision and it was just sent to you for implementation? Engage the people in the implementation discussion. Engage them, ask them, make them participate in how the decision will be implemented. So, mid-term solution, the second solution on how do you deal with resistance to change: you engage people in the design of change itself, or if it is already designed, make people have their say in the design of the implementation stage of change.
Finally, the third solution, the most long-term solution which has to do with mindset. Most companies I know, most of the companies I work with, are constantly paying attention to one crisis or another. Today it is digital, tomorrow it’s millennials; now it is a regulation or a new government law, next it is competition. We are always concentrating on what is in front of us, we are always in a kind of reactive space and mode. The best strategy I know to deal with resistance to change is to create a proactive mindset. Help your people understand that change will come again, and again and again. We don’t know what will be the content of change, but we know it will come.
So, why don’t we prepare? Why don’t we know better? This is like a season. We know fall is coming. We know winter is coming. We know summer is coming. Why don’t we look at change the way we look at nature’s seasons? That something will transform and we are prepared for it. Ahead of winter, we are getting our house protected and insulated. Ahead of spring, we are preparing our resources, our seeds if we are to grow any vegetables in the garden. We have preparations for seasons; we’ve had them for thousands of years. Think of the change the way you think of seasons. Look at change as a normal part of life, that it will come again, and again, and again. It’s cyclical.
When you create that kind of mindset, that kind of attitude to change, that kind of vision to change, you won’t need to fight resistance, because most of your people will now say, Of course, winter is here, we expected it. We are already proactively expecting it.
So this is my message for today. Start with resistance to change by creating a foundation. Three simple things:
#1 In the short term, in the midst of a big crisis, in the midst of a big transformation: don’t fight resistance to change, join it. Feel the emotion.
#2 If you have a little bit of time, engage people in the implementation of change.
#3 In the long run, create a mindset where reinvention is a habit and change is a normal part of life.
In the comments under this video, share with us how you fight the resistance to change phenomenon, how do you deal with it.
P.S. In case you need some good resources on reinvention, check this video where Nadya recommends three best new books on reinvention