person hurdling with the words "resistance to change" on the hurdle

Let’s face it, many people do not like change. And organizations are often no different. Yet there can be significant benefits from a company undertaking cultural change  — as long as the change is undertaken in a productive mode.

This article will look at the issue of resistance to cultural change in a business environment in three parts:

  1. Reasons for the resistance to change
  2. Benefits of change
  3. Overcoming and managing resistance to change

1) Reasons for the resistance to cultural change

Reasons for the resistance to cultural change in the workplace can be as individual as the individuals involved in the change. Yet there are some reasons that extend to wide swaths of employers and employees.

Susan M. Heathfield says in a The Balance article:

Resistance to change is a natural reaction when employees are asked, well, to change.

Heathfield explains that this natural reaction to change is because people have difficulty imagining what the change will look like when completed. Clinging to the known is safer.

Lisa Quast points out in a Forbes article:

While many people like to joke that the only constant in business is change, change has an interesting way of affecting people that can often result in resistance.

Quast says that resistance can range from avoidance or passive aggressive behavior to outright defiance, hostility, and sabotage.

(It is important for company leaders to check that they themselves are not resistant to the cultural change planned for their organizations. One good source for checking this out is Carol S. Dweck’s bestselling book MINDSET: THE NEW PSYCHOLOGY OF SUCCESS.)

Yet business leaders have to expect resistance to their cultural change agendas.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter says in a Harvard Business Review article:

The best tool for leaders of change is to understand the predictable, universal sources of resistance in each situation and then strategize around them.

This advice is actually asking a great deal from leaders. It is asking leaders to put themselves in the shoes of their followers (employees) and consider how change appears to these people.

Kanter says that the first step toward good solutions is for leaders to diagnose the sources of resistance. Leaders need to be aware of the feelings and opinions of the people around them when cultural change is undertaken.

Torben Rick cautions in an article:

Recognizing behaviors that indicate possible resistance will raise awareness of the need to address the concerns.

And no matter what changes are to be made in an organization, it all begins with people — and this is an important realization.

Adrian Furnham explains in a  Psychology Today article:

Those who love change usually prefer attempting to change structures, processes or systems rather than people.

Yet it is the people of an organization who must change if the change initiatives are to be successful.

This brings us to the question of whether there is a right way and a wrong way to undertake cultural change at an organization. There may be no absolutely right way, yet there are definitely better ways.

A article says that effective change management needs to start from day one:

Capturing and leveraging the passion and positive emotion surrounding a change can many times prevent resistance from occurring—this is the power of utilizing structured change management from the initiation of a project.

2) Benefits of change

Obviously there are benefits of change or change would never be undertaken and all existing organizations would remain static. (Until they get eaten by new organizations.)

August Turak says in a Forbes article that authentic changes go through four stages — anticipation, regression, breakthrough, and consolidation:

Anticipation is the exciting stage of change where we anticipate the benefits and make our transformational plans. Regression is when things get worse before they get better. Breakthrough is when we finally see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Consolidation is when we turn the benefits of change into business as usual.

Yet why is change necessary? In today’s high-speed world this is more necessary than ever.

Nicole Vulcan says in an article:

Businesses have to stay current with the trends of the industry in order to satisfy customers who are looking for the newest and best information, products and services.

And how you describe your change agenda to your employees can make a big difference. After all, language has power.

Lalla Scotter describes in an article how managers should talk about workplace changes:

Instead of a “major restructuring,” for example, they can talk about “creating new teams, so that you can work with different people on exciting new projects.”

What about specific benefits of change in the workplace?

Lisa Mooney says in an article about benefits from change in the workplace:

Changes compel individuals to think in new and exciting ways.

And to keep up in today’s world of rapid changes, companies need their employees to create innovations based on thinking in “new and exciting ways.”

Resistance to change

3) Managing resistance to change

It’s clear that cultural change is happening all the time in the business world and that this offers benefits even while meeting resistance.

What about some advice for managing this resistance?

The following is from an article addressing this question:

Recognise resistance. Don’t pretend it’s not happening – it will not go away, but will quietly fester and grow to be much bigger than it really is. It is most important first of all to recognise and acknowledge the resistance.

Don’t shoot the messenger. Just because someone has spoken out, don’t assume they are the only one resisting – there may be many more quietly agreeing with them.

Open it up for discussion. Often easier said than done but if you recognise resistance, then ask questions and find out about it. Listen to what people say and don’t think about whether you agree or disagree with them.

Understand their concerns. Try to understand what might be really worrying them. Does your plan have some real weaknesses? Could their concerns have some basis? Are they worried about their own capacity or skills? Whilst they might not want to admit it, is it possible that they feel they don’t have the ability or knowledge necessary? Or are they going to lose status? Or control?

Give it some time. Allow time for the concerns to be raised and then work with your team to find shared solutions.

Bonus tip for overcoming resistance to change

Use your company’s internal communications digital signage software to recognize those employees who effectively contribute to cultural change initiatives. When other employees see the praise  given the employees who are onboard for cultural change, the laggards may be encouraged to also get on the bandwagon.

And if you do not yet use digital signage software for your company’s internal communications, click here to get a free demo of Enplug’s digital signage solutions.