Much has been written about the adverse impact of Change resistance and the need to overcome it. Unmanaged, it has the power to spread like a virulent germ, potentially exposing an organization to greater risks than might have been realized by the Change effort alone.
Guy Galboiz, an entrepreneur and management consultant, said that “The reason: resistance is often multi-layered and embroiled in ancillary issues, unrelated to the Change. By the time it becomes known by those who need to know, the Change effort is in its 11th hour, with little chance for course correction.”
The fact is that resistance is a leading contributor to Change failure and while the literature is profuse with “How To” tactics for managing it, few talk about it as a mask for greater organizational issues or what I call “Projected Resistance”. Ironically, the impetus for change may have been inspired by these very issues; but it alone cannot resolve them. It’s a little like having a baby to save a troubled marriage.
To avoid or minimize the potential for Projected Resistance, the environment into which the Organizational Change is planned must first be conducive to that change. This requires an extensive health check of an organization, specifically, its readiness for change. Those responsible for Organizational Change Management will want to conduct in-depth analyses of the organization’s recent history, its current state, its corporate culture and politics, its immediate business priorities, concurrent and planned change initiatives, industry trends, competitive threats, etc., etc., etc. All must be evaluated in terms of their individual risk and resistance potential as well as to the proposed Change. Only then can the potential for projected or change-based resistance be fully anticipated and proactively mitigated.
In the absence of such plans and with the slightest whiff of dissension, those accountable are encouraged to carry out the following steps. At first glance, you may think Motherhood; but the power of respectful, relationship management should not be underestimated (and at this point, you likely have few options):
Deal with Resistors “Head On”
As soon as possible, (and armed with Intel) meet with resistors. Create an open forum for candid discussion and demonstrate deference. No matter how disruptive or provocative resistors’ behaviors have been, express your willingness to understand their concerns and support their requirements where possible. Set expectations. Your primary goal is to understand the depth and breadth of their discontent in order to gather the appropriate resources who can best address their issues. Remember that Projected Resistance goes well beyond the planned Change. Ensure that the full spectrum of issues has been tabled.
Acknowledge Resistors’ Contribution
Assuming resistors’ allegations are not frivolous; but rather passionate pleas to do right by the organization (all unorthodox tactics aside); Change Leaders are encouraged to re-frame their perceptions of the resistance as valuable feedback. While resistant behaviors should not be condoned, their good intentions and often, significant insights should be acknowledged, where appropriate.
Set an Action Plan
Facilitate a meeting with resistors and appropriate representatives of the organization to clarify points of resistance, set priorities and ideally, establish a realistic action plan inclusive of resistors’ involvement. Again, reinforce expectations: agree that that the issues may not be immediately or ever resolved; but that all parties will examine them constructively and that solution efforts will be collaborative. All in attendance should know the next steps that have been planned and their respective roles in executing them. At the very least, resistant employees should now feel heard, and hopefully, empowered through participation.
With opinions heard and a in place, resistant employees must formally commit to good conduct. This really means that they agree not to further disparage or sabotage the Change initiative that is underway. As a rule, their active involvement will evolve into genuine support for the Change, enabling them to both internalize and actively promote its merits.
In truth, there will never be an organization that is so healthy or functional that it can completely circumvent resistant behavior; however, regular checks of organizational readiness, as well as well-executed stakeholder management and engagement plans (and possibly the support of a staff Psychologist!) will optimize your chances.