How to make a diamond: 6 ways to overcome employee resistance to change

employee resistance
Friska Wirya


written on April 20, 2017

Change management is all about pressure. Day in, day out…I’m either alleviating it, or exerting it. And heck, I sure am under it!


“When we long for life without difficulties, remind us that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure”. P Marshall


Do you know how diamonds are made?

Diamonds are comprised of highly pressurised carbon. Geologists may still bicker over their exact formation process, but I’m sure the recipe rolls like this:

  1. Bury carbon dioxide 160km under the earth
  2. Heat to a nice and toasty 1,200 degrees celsius and wait for approximately one to three billion years

If we were to cast this in a change management context, the equivalent would be:

  • The “diamonds” are small wins and successes during the project life cycle.
  • The carbon atoms are the people, the myriad of stakeholders involved.
  • The carbon dioxide is resistance.
  • The temperature is the ‘burning platform’, a.k.a. the urgency for change, the desirability of the future state. The hotter, the better. (Good thing I like things muy caliente, eh?)
  • The pressure is the various methods deployed to treat and manage resistance, and strategies to remove obstacles standing in the way of the future state.

Luckily, I like bling. Scratch that. I LOVE bling.

I know that for me to obtain my sparkly things, I need to heat things up and apply different pressure settings to different carbons.

Below is a (by no means an exhaustive) list of the tools you need to address resistance.

1. Seek first to understand

Want your people to hunger for the future and your vision? Listening and empathy is critical. Human beings want to be understood and to be heard. You don’t have to agree with their views and opinions, but for goodness sake don’t say something like “You shouldn’t feel like that because of…”, or, “It doesn’t make sense you feel that way”.

Understanding them will help you pinpoint the root cause of objections when encountering employee resistance. Practice two-way active listening to clarify any misunderstandings about the change – and quash rumours and gossip.

NEWSFLASH: It’s not about you. Don’t invalidate anyone’s opinions and feelings if you want a fighting chance of getting your change to stick. Don’t debate, don’t argue. Just listen, understand and provide clarity.

2. Involvement creates ownership

This approach assumes you’ve harped on about the “why” numerous times and successfully turned up the temperature. Instead of mandating how the change will occur, just simply state what needs to change. This was implemented GE’s legendary “Work Out” program, where employees were given free rein to conduct a company-wide search of not only what could be done better, but also how to go about it. Create opportunities for your employees to get some ‘skin in the game’.

Involvement turns into ownership, which morphs into engagement. Watch the desire to support the change catch like wildfire.

3. Choice and consequence

People change…. Or people change, if you get my drift.

At some point there is a choice to either get on – or off – the bus. Clarity about the choices available to employees during change is essential. In cases of transformational change, the change is usually beyond the control of middle management.

Have you heard of Waze? I love the accuracy of their real-time traffic feeds. I recall using the app when I was living in Perth. If you’ve ever been in this city, you’ll know large road construction projects are commonplace. In the lead up to the widening of the highway which leads to the airport, I noticed there were frequent communications which:

  • Informed the public what would happen and when;
  • Provided alternative routes and choices for commuting;
  • Reminded the public of the objective/ultimate benefit of the roadworks. (aka the vision: more lanes, ultimately quicker travel times and less congestion)

The GPS mapping app added a further ability which outlined the consequences of taking the alternative routes at certain times, including providing ongoing information about expected delays along each route.

The change was happening regardless. But by communicating the choices and potential consequences of each, some degree of control was given back to commuters.

This can be applied to changes at work, too. Even when the change is set in stone and outside of management’s control, by providing simple choices along with the consequences of those choices, ownership is transferred back into the hands of employees.

4. Energise and enthuse

I’ve said it before – you can’t lead without passion. Get excited, get enthusiastic; paint the future state so vividly people can taste it and feel it.

The more detailed and the more articulate, the more they will work feverishly towards it. I don’t know about you, but I can only follow someone I respect, trust and admire. They’re usually trademarked by an insatiable drive to create a better future for employees and the business.

Personalising and connecting with employees will create the desire to change. We’re not robots. Tell us your story. Why do you believe in this? Why do you want our support? What will you personally do, to make sure this works? How will this affect us? We want to know.

NEWSFLASH: This takes a special kind of person. They create a compelling vision and build promise for a better future. I’m thinking JFK, Obama, Elon Musk and Steve Jobs. Their infectious passion shines through the haze of political B.S. present in most organisations.

5. “SHOW me the MONEY!”

Seeing is believing. Make it real.

Demonstrate the benefits in a tangible way to remove employee resistance, doubts and fears.

What I had in mind was sharing case studies of comparable companies who have successfully completed similar changes (and the results achieved), personal testimonies from credible sources, and a roadshow which highlights the success of pilot programs within the business.

Conversely, examples of companies not implementing change and its disastrous after-effects will help up the ante. Remember Kodak? Or Nokia? No? Exactly. Just make sure your examples are relevant and on-point.

6. Sacrificial lamb

You’ve tried everything and you’re still experiencing employee resistance. They have to go. Why? The removal of a key blocker is a powerful symbol and lets those who remain know….

  • You’re not mucking around with this change.
  • Resistance will not be tolerated under any circumstances.
  • The consequences for not getting on board are real.

CAUTION: This is a nuclear option, and should only be used as a last resort and if the change is at risk.

Want a whopping 5-carat diamond? Get ready to up the pressure and play with fire.

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One thought on “How to make a diamond: 6 ways to overcome employee resistance to change

  1. Great article full of useful information for the many leaders implementing change. It is good reading even for those leaders that are unaware ongoing is part of doing business.

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