Do People Resist Change?

Or is it change thrust upon them that they resist? This is one of my favourite topics to understand and convey, so I surprised myself when I realised I hadn’t written about it yet.

One of my new favourite mantras is “I am that which is constant” which just serves to remind me to get back to my core, despite what is going on around me. In a world full of change, I am the only constant. The me I know and trust. I used to think that I was unusual because I enjoy change. Then I realised that people change many things about themselves all the time. We create change in ourselves throughout our lives. We change our marital status, our professional status, our educational status (as Facebook reminds us!). We move, have babies, take on sporting challenges, get a promotion or even get sick parents, partners or children – it’s all change. Some of it is our choice and some is thrust upon us. What makes us accept the changes we decided upon and resist the ones we don’t?

I have been in many professional situations where managing resistance to change was the thing I spent most of my day doing – until I realised I was doing it all wrong! It can be exhausting if you think about it in a negative way – like “resisting change”. When you master it, and think positively about how to work with people to achieve the same outcome, regardless of the process – it becomes the most rewarding thing.

As leaders, we must do what is best for the business, it’s our job. Does it really matter what journey we take to achieve it? If we propose the outcome then work together to create the solution, resistance to change is minimalised. Sometimes it takes a while for people to be clear that they don’t like the change. We all need time to think things through, so if offered some time to digest, it’s easier to swallow.

There are of course business decisions made where not only the outcome is determined, but the process is too. These are the most unfortunate of experiences, because people are affected the most; resistance is at its highest and the results might be achieved but at the cost of people’s happiness, faith in the company and enormous stress levels on all sides. I’m not naïve and I have been involved in many business decisions where the people were going to suffer, regardless of how we created the solution! These are terrible situations to be in, but as an HR Professional and Leader, these are the jobs we do.  We must either find a way or make one, as Hannibal said. (True, he was leading elephants through the desert, but some days that’s how it feels!)

Enforced change hits people personally. When we deal with resistance to change, it all stems from personal values. People may not like the proposed change because it impacts them directly in a negative way. In a personal situation, change can be managed more easily. We can speak out and talk about what we don’t like. In a professional situation, this can be interpreted as resistance.

I encourage people to speak out about the changes they don’t like, in a constructive way. I also encourage them to propose an alternative solution. If we provide people with a reason to change and the chance to come up with their own solution, this ‘resistance’ can be addressed. It’s important to make clear that although we invite a solution, if it doesn’t ultimately meet the needs of the business, we will have to keep working until we find one that does!

Resistance takes many forms: individual or organised, active or passive, aggressive or timid, overt or covert.

People can be clever about the way they resist change, or their actions can be subconscious. It just means we have to be on our game. We have to understand why the resistance is there, what are the personal issues for the people involved and how do we address them. We need empathy for why people don’t want to change. It may be that they have never had to before (it’s possible!); or they don’t agree with the way the business is changing and the direction it is headed in.

Ultimately it’s about choice.

The thing is that sometimes the direction might not be right, sometimes business has to do things people don’t like. At the point of discourse though, it is our choice to decide if we agree and go with it or if we don’t. So either bow out if you don’t like the change, or find a way to make it work for you.

I could bang on about the ways people resist change and tell you some wonderful stories – but, this is about how to deal with it, in the way I try to and from my own experience. Change needs to be based on inspired collaboration. We need to find the common ground between different needs and motivators. We need to address both the positives and negatives of changing and of not changing. Once we communicate all of those things and take the time and personal interest to understand why people are resisting, we will have a much better understanding of not only our goal, but hopefully of what drives the people who work for us.

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