Do Your Employees Resist Change? Here's Why That's a Good Sign

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If you've ever introduced a significant change that did not achieve the desired result, you're not alone. According to Deloitte, 60 to 70 percent of all large-scale change efforts fail. So, what's the driving force behind this staggering failure rate for culture change in the workplace?

In most cases, it's not strategy, process or system flaws that get in the way of success. It's the human factors — a combination of our natural resistance to change, our tendency to feel overwhelmed by change and the internal politics we all struggle with — that prevent most change efforts from succeeding.

Anticipate Initial Resistance — It's Usually Good News

Resistance to change (even good change) is completely normal and something most people experience. Everyone tends to go through stages of personal transition when faced with change — some get to the other side faster than others, but it's a journey everyone takes. Be prepared for resistance as a natural part of any transformational change effort.

It's important to understand that how you respond to employee complaints and initial push back to change can set the tone for the entire transformation. One of the biggest mistakes leaders can make is to reward early resistance when introducing significant culture change. If a few complaints come to HR or someone sends an angry email to the CEO and it brings change to a halt, you could end up creating a machine that makes your employees better and better at resisting future change.

If leaders react to natural, initial resistance as if it's bad news, it can set the entire change effort up for failure. In fact, it can actually be a sign of early success. When employees complain about an upcoming policy change, it may mean they're aware that it's coming and they understand they're going to have to start doing things differently. It's when they're silent that can be a cause for concern.

If you introduce a radical culture change in the workplace and hear nothing back from employees, it probably means they've gotten good at resisting change. Why would they react to something that they don't believe will affect them or will ever come to fruition? Leaders often assume silence is a good thing, but it's more likely the sound of their organization being ignored.

Here are three strategies to help HR leaders solve for these human factors when communicating significant change

1. Prepare Leaders to Anticipate Resistance as a Natural Part of Change

Establish an escalation process and provide them with consistent key messages. This ensures they know what to do and how to respond to negative employee feedback.

2. Use Constructive Criticisms as Opportunities to Adjust

Develop two-way channels to stay attuned to employees. Win good will by listening to their feedback and incorporate it into how you implement change moving forward.

3. Understand That Complaints Are Often an Indicator of Early Success

Resistant employees are, by definition, aware of the coming changes. This means they received the message, know how it affects them and believe it's going to happen.

Sustain Change by Engaging the Emotions

Most organizations focus their efforts on building a rational business case for change, but don't overlook (or underestimate) the importance of appealing to emotions. That's because most change efforts are led by logical, analytical people who want to load communications with all the reasons behind the change: "We're introducing this change because of X, Y, Z ... and here's a list of all the reasons that employees are going to love it."

While this may seem like a logical approach, our ability to sustain change over time is far more emotional than it is rational. The brain science is there, reports — changing behavior and getting people to commit is less about using logic to influence their thoughts and more about presenting the change in a way that influences their feelings.

With that in mind here are three practical tips for appealing to employees' emotions:

1. Involve Employees in the Change Process

Develop two-way channels or conduct focus groups to collect employee feedback. Listen and respond to their input. The fastest path to acceptance comes when employees feel they contributed to the solution.

2. Create Opportunities to Celebrate Success

Don't just celebrate when you've reached a key milestone. Identify smaller, short-term goals along the way to sustain feelings of success.

3. Establish Champions and Ambassadors at Every Opportunity

Engage stakeholders and identify early adopters who can serve as champions for the change.

Always remember: the next transformation is coming. Organizations must be agile and responsive to succeed in the current business climate, which largely depends on their ability to effectively communicate change, even when it's hard. The key is getting people through the change feeling engaged and committed by being transparent, clear and maintaining their trust. It gets them ready to take on the next change (which is just around the corner).

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