People don’t resist change.
Change is a normal and natural part of living. The only time you stop changing is when you’re dead.
What people resist is having change imposed on them.
Here are three guidelines to invite people to participate in the change process, and to minimize resistance to change.
1. Involve people throughout the organization in planning and implementing the change.
The best way to avoid resistance to change is to involve people in planning and implementing the change.
They will have a better understand what the change is about, why it is important and will be more committed to it. When people are asked for help, they are more invested in the outcome.
When a leadership team plans a change effort in isolation, there is much they are unaware of. When they involve people from various parts of the organization, new ideas and information surfaces and they become smarter.
If you involve people in planning, the organization will begin to change during the planning process. If you do the planning in isolation, and then try to get the organization to change, you will be met with resistance – especially from those in the middle of the organization.
2. Support the middle.
Don’t blame the people in the middle of your organization for being resistant to change. Resistance naturally lies in the middle. The hierarchical nature of organizations creates a disconnect between the top of the organization and the frontline. The role of the middle is to convey direction and strategy from the top and to the frontline and to ensure it is implemented effectively.
The middle has the most to lose during a change effort. Will they still be needed? What is required of them in their new role? Will they lose what little power they have?
Involving the middle reduces the disconnect. They become aligned with the senior team. But, if you only involve the middle, you still have a disconnect with frontline. The disconnect simply lies deeper in the hierarchy. You must involve people at all levels in the change effort – middle and frontline.
However, this creates a problem for middle managers because it is at odds with the inherent power distribution of the organization’s hierarchy. How can they sit at the table as equals with those who report to them?
The solution? Senior leaders must join them at the same table, and actively engage in real dialogue around questions like:
Where are we heading? Does it make sense? How prepared are we to get there if we don’t change?
3. The change method itself must reflect the new desired culture.
The process is as important as the product. If the new culture requires the organization to be creative and nimble and the change process is slow and traditional, the people will not believe you are serious about changing.
If the new culture requires people to act like owners, to freely share ideas and support each other, and they are treated like the traditional rank and file during the change process, you are giving mixed messages. People will not embrace the change, and you will be met with what looks like resistance.