Change is a crucial part of the evolution of an organisation, and it’s something that all successful businesses go through at varying intervals. Whether it’s large-scale organisational change or smaller increments, it must be implemented effectively, and one of the barriers to that implementation is change resistance.
Change resistance can take the form of employee complaints, reduced productivity, or even resignations. In this article, you’ll learn the fundamentals of organisational change and change resistance, how to spot signs of resistance and the ways that your organisation can overcome it.
What is resistance to change?
Change resistance is resistance to planned change from any level of an organisation. It’s a normal human response to be unsure or outright resistant to change, and in any organisation, this response can present itself in the form of outward concerns, private discussions amongst employees or more drastic action such as protest or refusal to participate in certain activities.
People resist change for various reasons, but two of the most common are fear of the unknown and a lack of trust. The former is a normal response to situations in everyday life, not just work, and the latter may stem from pre-existing issues or concerns within an organisation, or perhaps from negative experiences with organisational change in the past. It’s important to remember that these concerns can be overcome with clear communication and a strong strategy, which will significantly enhance the prospect of successful change.
As McKinsey & Company’s research found, when people are invested in change, it is 30% more likely to stick. By turning resistance into advocacy, you’re setting your organisation up for success.
The importance of change within an organisation
Every organisation must undergo change at certain points in order to continue being successful. It’s a crucial part of an organisation’s growth, and organisations that are slow to enact change or do so without proper change management are likely to fall behind competitors that implement change effectively.
There are myriad reasons why change is important for an organisation, and we’re going to highlight some of the most significant.
Every organisation is established to meet a certain customer need or set of needs, but over time these needs will change and evolve, and organisations need to evolve with them to ensure those needs continue to be met. If an organisation identifies a shift in customer behaviour, for example, then the organisation needs to be prepared to react to that shift quickly, capitalise on opportunities and avoid gaps in performance.
Adaptability helps an organisation adjust to meet the changing needs of their industry or customer base, and this adaptability will always look good in the eyes of customers. Organisations that are stuck in old processes will struggle to stay competitive against more agile businesses, and change is a key part of ensuring your organisation stays agile.
While a process may well have been the most efficient possible option at one point in time, it will inevitably become outdated as advancements and innovations are made in things like technology and business operations. Inefficient working practices can bring several negative outcomes for an organisation, from suboptimal performance to unhappy employees.
For example, imagine an organisation has a process in place for employees to track their time, but the actual process of tracking time and logging hours is arduous and actually becomes something of a time sink itself. The organisation is losing useful hours to admin processes, which not only makes no sense from a business point of view, but it can also be frustrating for staff as it eats into the time they have available to perform their jobs well.
The longer the organisation goes without implementing a better, more efficient change process, the more hours they lose to admin and the more frustrated employees become.
Improving workplace culture and employee wellbeing
Employee wellbeing is crucial, of course, both inside and outside of work. Sometimes, organisational change is necessary in order to improve wellbeing and workplace culture. According to MIT Sloan, 1 in 10 employees experience their workplace culture as toxic, and this can have a significant impact on mental health, wellbeing and productivity.
A toxic workplace culture is a key sign of a need for organisational change. It is one of the biggest predictors of burnout and intent to leave (McKinsey Health Institute), impacting everything from organisational performance to personnel retention. It doesn’t just impact those who work at your organisation, either; it can put off potential recruits too. Research from Entrepreneur found that 70% of candidates you’re looking at recruiting are researching your organisation’s culture.
The digital age has transformed just about everything about the way we work, and the organisations that have adapted to this transformation are the ones that are thriving. These kinds of transformations require significant organisational change, and failure to do so effectively and promptly can result in organisations playing catch-up with competitors.
Organisations can learn more, do more and achieve more if they adapt to digital innovation. From implementing new software for internal use to changing the ways external communications are managed, digital innovations can help organisations across the board.
Improved internal communications
Internal communications are - or should be - a crucial part of any organisation. The way these communications are managed and the processes that are used are the defining factor in how comfortable employees feel speaking up, and the ability to speak up and feel heard is a key factor in employee satisfaction.
According to The Josh Bersin Company, organisations that ensure communications reflect their culture are 6x more likely to be an industry leader, 5x more likely to have productive employees and 2x more likely to adapt well to innovate effectively. Outdated, non-inclusive or inefficient communication can mean that issues are left unchecked and flashpoints are ignored or unseen.
By implementing a platform that facilitates more efficient and effective communication, such as Rungway, workplace culture can be vastly improved, and an organisation can be better equipped to navigate wider change.
The aforementioned benefits of improved efficiency and innovation can have a positive effect on profitability. Employees that feel more confident and comfortable with change will feel more engaged with their work, which will help them be more productive.
Effective change helps businesses stay ahead of the curve, rather than lagging behind it. This means you can focus on taking advantage of your new structure or processes, rather than wasting time and funds playing catch-up. Whether it’s a new service, product or simply a more cost-effective way of doing things, implementing these changes successfully can help to increase profitability.
Change can help an organisation be better prepared to diversify and expand into new markets. If future diversification is on the agenda for your organisation, building it into your change strategy and ensuring your employees are ready and willing to enact this change will ensure you’re primed for diversification when the opportunity arises.
Why do people resist change?
Even though change is planned and implemented with the benefit of the organisation in mind, it is rarely accepted across the board in the initial stages, and it can require a lot of work and negotiation to reach a place of understanding and acceptance. People resist change for a number of reasons. Here are some of the most common:
5 common reasons for resisting change
Fear of the unknown
Change can be daunting and it can present a whole host of hypothetical scenarios that can make us apprehensive about what’s coming. In the professional environment, where change may have a real impact on somebody’s role, that fear is understandable.
This fear of the unknown can be tempered by reducing the ‘unknown’. That is to say that leadership should communicate planned change as clearly and inclusively as possible from the earliest possible stage, giving employees the chance to voice their opinions and ensuring those opinions and concerns are taken on board and acted upon where possible.
Fear of failure
Tied into the fear of the unknown is the fear of failure. Employees may be worried about their personal performance in a post-change version of their organisation, or they may be worried about the organisation’s performance as a whole. With these fears in mind, it’s natural to be worried or resistant to the idea of organisational change.
The more information people are given about pending change, and the more opportunities they are given to voice their opinions and concerns, the more likely they are to come around to it. It is the responsibility of leaders to make sure that this information and these opportunities are provided.
The COVID-19 pandemic was a time of significant, unprecedented change for organisations around the world, and that change has had a real impact on employees. Capterra’s 2022 Change Fatigue Survey found that 78% of employees said they have experienced more change at their job during the pandemic than at any other point in their careers, and that 71% were overwhelmed by the change they experienced during the pandemic.
Change fatigue can take the form of explicit, outright resistance or passive resistance, such as reduced productivity and lower engagement. According to Leadership IQ, the average CEO is 66% more likely to enjoy taking risks than employees, because the proposed changes are either less likely to affect them or they have a clearer picture of what the change entails.
It’s vital that the employees are involved in any change planning and communication in order to reduce the likelihood of resistance and increase the likelihood of advocacy.
Lack of trust in leadership
Only 15% of employees understand their leaders’ rationale behind change strategy (Leadership IQ). Without understanding rationale - that is to say, if leaders do not clearly and inclusively communicate change strategy ahead of time - there is likely to be a serious disconnect between leadership’s confidence in change and that of the employees. In 2018, analysis from MIT Sloan of 124 organisations revealed that only 28% of executives and middle managers responsible for executing strategy could list three of their company’s strategic priorities. If this lack of clarity can occur just at leadership/management level, then the disconnect between leadership and staff can be much greater.
Too many organisations see change as something that should be decided by leadership and leadership alone, but it’s crucial to remember that in a lot of organisational change, it is employees who will face the biggest differences in their day-to-day roles, and so it is vital to bring them to the table when planning change.
Lack of understanding
If employees do not fully understand the ‘how’s and ‘why’s of change, then they’re very likely to be resistant to it. Any planned change needs to be communicated as early and as clearly as possible to help build a strong understanding amongst employees, which can then eventually make way for advocacy. It is not the employees’ job to go digging for information about planned change - it’s the responsibility of leadership to deliver it to them.
Presenting change plans or announcing a new strategy may not give employees all the information they want and need. They want to know how it affects their day-to-day role and their jobs in general, as well as the potential benefits for the organisation as a whole, for example. If you’re asking employees to get on board with organisational change, you need to make it clear what exactly they’re getting on board with.
How to minimise change resistance in your organisation
Create psychological safety
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again; effective communication is the cornerstone of organisational change.
Creating psychological safety means creating a space where employees can raise concerns and ask questions without fear of judgement - by doing this, you can help to make communication easier, more honest, and more effective. This is because it empowers more people to come forward, so that leaders hear from the quieter voices and be able to create a bigger, clearer, more detailed picture of their organisation. They’ll learn what their people are struggling with, what they’re concerned about, or what they don’t understand, whether that’s about planned change or wider concerns.
Leadership have a responsibility to communicate plans clearly, and to do that, a suitable platform is needed - a platform like Rungway. Rungway facilitates two-way communication that allows leadership and employees to connect directly and hold conversations that all users in the organisation can see.
With the anonymity feature, employees can voice their honest opinions with confidence. Our research shows, for example, that people of colour receive 46% more replies when they post anonymously compared to when they use their name and photo, and that women in the APAC region opt for anonymity 100% of the time when asking a question. By having these conversations, leaders can learn more about people’s readiness for change; whether they’re change advocates or change resistors. Leaders can then find out why people are resisting change, and then work to take action and make changes that alleviate concerns.
Faster feedback loops
As well as improving the ways in which you communicate, it’s also important to improve the speed at which you do so. What we mean by this is making sure that feedback is given in a timely manner, to keep conversations going and ensure all parties can take something meaningful away from them.
Bringing employees to the table is part of faster feedback loops, and an excellent way to reduce resistance to change. We’ve already highlighted the disconnect between leaders’ rationale for change and employees’ understanding of it, and that often comes about from top-down decision making and communication.
By engaging in two-way communication, leaders can find out more about what people want from change and how it can be made to work for everyone, and they can then act quickly to deliver a positive impact for their people. It’s so important, though, that leaders make an effort to amplify the quieter voices in the organisation - that’s why Rungway is such an effective platform for these conversations; it gives everyone a voice at all times.
Address employee concerns head-on
With any change process, there will be concerns from employees. From relatively minor queries to major doubts, it’s important that these concerns are listened to and acted upon as quickly and effectively as possible. 82% of workers surveyed by Gartner say it’s important for their organisation to see them as a person, not just an employee - listening to and addressing concerns is a key part of this.
Addressing concerns can help win advocacy in other ways, too; simply by showing that they are willing to listen and act, leadership can help their people feel more valued and more engaged with their work.
There’s another factor to consider when it comes to addressing employee concerns; even though you won’t be able to take their desired action every time, this needn’t be a cause for friction. If you clearly explain why you’re not doing something, it can help employees understand and eventually accept it, as opposed to rejecting a concern without explanation. Helping people understand the rationale behind decisions - whether it’s doing something or not doing something - is one of the most effective ways to get people on board.
It’s important to be seen to be doing this, too; with Rungway, all users in the organisation can see conversations and see what leadership say in real-time. It’s the perfect platform for increasing leadership visibility.
Offer training and support
Training and support can help employees feel more prepared for change and therefore more at ease with it. Rather than announcing planned change and leaving employees to wait and wonder, showing them support can help them feel more engaged with the process and feel more valued by their leadership.
Part of supporting employees through the change process and preparing them for what comes next is including them in the conversation, as we’ve already mentioned. Providing training also helps to reduce another aforementioned factor in change resistance; the fear of the unknown.
From change fatigue to fear of the unknown, people resist change for a number of reasons, and it is down to leadership to take the right actions to turn resistance into advocacy. Doing so starts with effective communication, and that is exactly what Rungway is built for. Transparent, real-time, two-way communication for employees and leaders that facilitates the conversations that make change successful and help to instil a culture of communication in any organisation.
Get started with Rungway now and start reaping the benefits of inclusive, real-time communication that is vital in navigating your organisation through successful change. Click here to find out more.