Leading change, and managing resistance

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James Yorston

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written on October 11, 2017

More than ever, leaders today must deal with employees who either embrace change or resist it.

Whether a change occurs with a new product or in acquiring a new business, managers need to understand and acknowledge how employees at all levels move through change.

Something to lose and learn

Resistance to change occurs when it is associated with a loss. But when people have something to lose, they also have something to learn.

Those with the most to lose will offer the most resistance and can experience loss in different ways, such as a loss of autonomy, relationships or status, which for example, can occur after a restructure.

Don’t ignore resistance

Many leaders often ignore people who resist change because they view them as difficult. They focus instead on those embracing change. However, it’s the people resisting change who need our support in understanding change and building awareness of their loss.

Early on in a change, it’s always good to explore and address potential loss that can cause resistance. One exercise to help people embrace change is to have them write down what they see as a loss and then later have them share it with you. This process allows the individual to see that change is not insurmountable and resistance is likely more a creation of the mind than reality.

Be honest

If you’re in senior-management, HR or on the frontlines, change can look different. But by having conversations with people affected by a change, you build an awareness of where and how it will impact the business.

For those extremely resistant to change – and a small portion will always resist despite your best efforts – it’s wise to be honest and transparent with them. Statistics show numerous change initiatives fail because of pockets of resistance that eventually grind the change down until it can no longer be implemented.

Once you are aware of what’s going on, you will be able lead people through change and, of course, manage resistance.

Learn more

Senior Consultant James Yorston facilitates several executive education programs at Melbourne Business School, and specialises in leadership, change and team culture. He spoke in depth about change and resistance with colleague Jan Marshall in a recent podcast.

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