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How To Overcome Resistance To Change With Employees: 7 Practical Tips

How To Overcome Resistance To Change With Employees: 7 Practical Tips

The word change strikes fear in many people. For employees, change means the fear of the unknown, and for the ones leading the change, the fear of resistance and failure. If you’ve been on either side of a change initiative, you know these fears are all too real. Yet, individuals, teams, and organizations cannot keep pace in a constantly evolving business world without change - you either transform or you get left behind.

The velocity of change in organizations is only increasing due to the VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) world we find ourselves operating in. With compressed timelines and the sheer volume of change need to keep pace, any change initiatives must be successful. Yet, it has been found that 70% of change initiatives fail to achieve their goals primarily due to employee resistance and lack of management support.

According to Satir's Change Model, understanding and addressing the "resistance" stage—where employees may push back against change—can help mitigate these failures. However, when employees are invested in change and see it be successful, it is 30% more likely to stick.

To reap the benefits of a change initiative that sticks, it is important first to understand why employees may demonstrate resistance.


Get the answers to the most frequently asked questions about organizational  change in this guide. >> 


5 Reasons Employees Show Resistance to Change

In a report from George Washington University, it was determined that it is not a resistance to change people experience, but a fear of the unknown. They stated, “People may resist loss of status, loss of pay, or loss of comfort, but these are not the same as resisting change. The belief that people do resist change causes all kinds of unproductive actions within organizations.”

This notion that the resistance isn’t for the fact that change is happening but for the lack of clarity in what will happen was recently supported in a 2021 report for the European Journal of Business and Management. They found 5 common causes of employee resistance to change:

  1. Mistrust and lack of confidence in the change initiative
  2. An emotional response to a shift in their work routine
  3. Individuals personal fear of failure
  4. Poor communication by the leader and organization
  5. Unrealistic timelines

As we’ve discovered, it isn’t a resistance to change but the fear of the unknown and uncertainty. That’s why it is up to those in change leadership to do everything to counteract that fear to ensure their team is bought in and excited for the change. So here are 7 tips for doing just that.


How to Overcome Resistance to Change 

  1. Have a compelling case for change
  2. Use one-on-one meetings to address the root of the resistance
  3. Involve them
  4. Clearly define what will be changing for each individual
  5. Encourage two-way communication
  6. Provide timely feedback on progress
  7. Be a united front



1. Have a Compelling Case for Change

When individuals can’t understand why the change is necessary, you can almost guarantee they won’t be on board. So instead, leaders and managers need to frequently communicate to their teams why the change is taking place and why there is value in changing.

Niagara Insititute’s partner, Eagle’s Flight, states the following about creating a compelling case for change: “The vision must describe what the future state will look like, why the future is better than today, and the benefits of changing. The picture you paint needs to be so vivid that everyone sees what you see for the future and is left wanting to do their part to achieve that vision.”

Having a clear and convincing vision that change is needed will help you overcome some of the fear associated with change.



2. Use One-On-One Meetings to Address the Cause of Resistance 

In a team or all-company meeting, an individual struggling with change isn’t going to announce to everyone, “I fear I won’t be able to learn the new skills I need and will be left behind.” That’s why having regular one-on-one meetings with each employee is imperative to address the true feelings regarding the change. Demonstrate you will be there with them and invested in their success throughout the change initiative by providing coaching, delivering constructive feedback, offering opportunities for upskilling, and providing praise.


3. Involve Them

If there are individuals on your team who you feel will be more likely to resist change, you’ll want to collaborate with them in the process. When individuals feel involved in shaping the change, and their input is heard and valued, they’re more likely to embrace it when it rolls out and advocate for it. Likewise, if others see someone who is typically resistant to change bought it, they will likely jump on board as well.


4. Clearly Define What Will Be Changing For Each Individual

It is not enough to only describe the change at a high level; individuals need to know what is changing in their role and why. For example, a leader may say, “We’re implementing this new piece of software,” but for an individual, they will want to know how this implementation will impact them, their role, and their work routine. Therefore, leaders need to get granular and define what is changing for each individual they manage.


5. Encourage Two-Way Communication

Organizations and leaders often announce a change to employees and why the change is taking place, but the communication will be one-sided and end there. To avoid resistance to change, employees need to digest the initial information and engage in an ongoing dialogue with leaders to ask questions and address their concerns to gain the clarity they need to embrace the change. Communication is the primary tool to provide clarity and address the fear associated with change. That’s why communication should frequently occur across multiple mediums and settings and be a dialogue, not a lecture.


6. Provide Timely Feedback on Progress 

Implementing change takes time, and throughout the process, leaders should give regular updates on how the implementation is going and any adjustments that need to be made. Without this, a once engaged individual may see the change as another corporate initiative that eventually fizzles out and lose interest in seeing the change through to the end.



7. Be a United Front

For change to be successful and overcome any resistance, you will need to get all leaders involved to show buy-in and support for the initiative. If the change impacts the entire organization, everyone from the executive team to managers needs to show their support and be prepared to implement the change with their team. If employees see or hear their manager or other leaders resisting the change, they will feel they have a free pass to do so as well.


conclusion: Leaders are critical to the Success of Change

Change is never easy and can be a real struggle for everyone involved, no matter the role you’re playing. However, leaders can make implementing change easier on their people and themselves by having the knowledge and skills to lead change. To get you there, Niagara Institute offers practical change management training that leaves you with the skills and tools you need to ensure your next change initiative is a success.

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