We live in the era of delayering, limited resources, deregulation, technological advancements, globalisation, demanding clients, and competition. These drivers generate constant obsolescence and the need to change. The list is limitless, and these forces push organisations to adapt to new dynamics, which is, sometimes, unsuccessful.
The conventional idea is that organisations must constantly change to remain relevant in today’s ever-changing environment. However, organisational change, in general, is not working as it should. Statistics from corporations in the Fortune 1000 demonstrate that companies that passed through radical corporate change reported success rates as low as 50%. Along these lines, a concerning report from McKinsey & Company shows a success rate of 30%. Even though the market is evolving and new and more agile ways of managing change are emerging, the success rate has not improved; it has, in fact, worsened.
With so few successes in large-scale organisational change, it is intriguing to know what the reason behind such a low rate would be. In a study with 500 large corporations (The changing face of organisational change, Waldersee & Griffiths), employee resistance to change was the most cited barrier when implementing a Continuous Improvement (CI) programme. Managing employee resistance to change demonstrates to be a challenge for change leaders, and it overshadows other difficulties of the whole organisational change process.
If you have already deployed, or are in the progress of deploying a CI programme of your own, you may recognise these challenges. If you’re still at the planning stage, it is an important consideration.
- Why are we resistant to change?
- What are the impacts?
- What role do leaders play in minimising resistance to change?
Read on to discover the answers to each of these questions, as well as practical steps you can take away to help your teams grow and your business thrive.
How Does Resistance to Change Arise?
Resistance to change is a barrier to progress and encompasses a list of negative behaviours, from passive to aggressive resistance. Passive in the form of spreading rumours, reluctance, delaying actions and fake sympathy. And aggressive in the form of non-cooperation, complaints and criticism of the change programme. Companies experience resistance to change from their employees or within teams if:
- Those in leadership positions initiate mass layoffs
- Large salaries are paid to executives rather than earnings being distributed in a fair manner
- Employees feel exploited or undervalued
- There is a lack of respect and communication from leaders
- The actions of leaders are different to their words
- The actions of leaders are seemingly unethical
- Success is not communicated and acknowledgement is not given
As important as it is to understand the sources of resistance to change, it is also crucial to see the other side of the coin: the consequences and effects.
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The Effects of Resistance to Change
Individuals may participate in efforts to change and improve an organisation or its methods, but they often won’t effectively cooperate, leaving the effort to change a failure. For example, if you attempted to involve 50% of an organisation’s employees in a CI programme, those who are typically change-resistant will likely try to disengage or not include themselves to the fullest extent.
If the programme fails, it reinforces the initial resistance to change and creates a negative loop that strengthens the individual’s decision to withdraw from any further change effort. This impacts individual performance and may also negatively influence colleagues.
On the other hand, people who are resistant to change may be quicker to argue against any unethical requests made by a leader or company, or they may be more likely to recognise challenges and problems faced by the organisation.
The Role Leaders Play in Encouraging Change Adoption
The role played by leaders in changing an organisation has a significant impact on the overall success of any CI programme. Leadership depends on the willingness of individuals to partially surrender the control and, to ignite a change, it is necessary for the existence of two interactive elements: leaders and followers. Leaders play the role of indicating the organisation’s final destination, developing plans, gathering resources, and providing the support needed to implement change. While followers are the resources available to make the change happen, without them, there is no change and no leadership.
When the planned changes do not happen according to expectations, employees blame management and start questioning the perception of their trustworthiness, competence, and integrity. Employees might opt to think that management lacks the ability to deliver what was planned or, for whatever reasons, they deliberately choose not to. As a result, the employees end up not trusting them in future efforts.
Two leadership styles are frequently associated negatively and positively when it comes to resistance to organisational change: autocratic, which is negatively associated, and transformational, which is positively associated:
- An autocratic leadership style is not looked upon favourably as autocratic leaders generally fail to acknowledge people’s efforts to contribute to the change and lack openness about methodologies and objectives. This behaviour leads to employee dissatisfaction, which is a precursor of resistance to change.
- Transformational leaders, on the other hand, encourage their followers, which helps to reduce resistance to change. They do this by inspiring, and being transparent with, employees, intellectually stimulating them and empowering them to challenge the status quo.
For employees to be on board with a continuous improvement programme, they need to feel optimistic about the idea, which involves understanding why change is needed, how existing procedures, practices and approaches could be improved, and what their contribution will be.
Transformational leaders can influence employees to make changes necessary and, ultimately, possible. Transformational leaders can credibly defend previous efforts taken as failures by reframing them using a more positive perspective. Admitting past mistakes, apologising, taking appropriate corrective action and providing a clear two-way communication can help transmit optimism to the employees and minimise resistance to organisational change.
Read this article to discover the 6 key benefits of implementing a CI programme in your business.
9 Practical Actions for Successfully Managing and Minimising Resistance to Change
To minimise resistance often experienced by change leaders, when implementing CI programmes, look to the memorable acronym: PALACCIIO.
PALACCIIO encompasses 9 key actions: Publicise, Acknowledgement, Leadership Behaviour, Avoid Surprises, Compelling Story, Communication, Involvement, Information, and Ownership:
- Publicise: organisational change develops from small, incremental changes, and the positive results yielded from this should be publicised to avoid misinformation or misinterpretation of the outcomes. If good results are publicised and failures honestly acknowledged, resistance to change will be minimised.
- Acknowledgement: acknowledge and thoroughly explain past failures. If past mistakes were correlated to management, acknowledge and explain the reasons behind the failure and how the process will be reworked to be more effective in the future. Exhibiting sincerity, transparency, and fairness may change employees’ perception of management in terms of competence and trustworthiness, which is necessary to minimise resistance to change.
- Leadership Behaviour: if managers have difficulty incorporating positive leadership behaviours, training should be provided. Transformational leadership is important but not the sole responsible for successfully minimising resistance to change, and a supportive culture should be nurtured to effectively promote the necessary changes.
- Avoid Surprises: managers should avoid startling employees. It’s important to give enough time to explain the reasons behind proposed changes so that employees can absorb, process and empathise with the managers – seeing things from their perspective. This reduces the predisposition to attaching blame and reduces the likelihood of leaders being seen as incompetent or selfish.
- Compelling Story: words are powerful, so use a compelling story to convince employees about the need and desirability of the organisational change rather than imposing it dictatorially or without explaining the background rationale.
- Communication: resistance is negatively related to the perception of low or poor communication; consequently, managers should take communication as a crucial element of any change implementation. Communicating the small wins greatly impacts the perception of change and its chances of success.
- Involvement: the more managers involve employees, the less the employees resist change, and the more included – and therefore valued – they feel. Employees must have their opinions heard – respectful and careful consideration of all parties is essential if change is to be embraced.
- Information: resistance to change endures when there is a lack of information to counter it. Information should be thoroughly shared throughout the process of continuous improvement. If the beginning of a change is announced but not its completion, for example, employees assume that it has been a failure and resistance to continuous improvement increases.
- Ownership: organisations that promote shared accountability for change enjoy a sense of ownership by the employees, as sharing accountability reduces the distance between employees and management, encourages collaboration, and reduces the chance of employees unjustly blaming the leadership for failures.
Whichever stage you are at with your continuous improvement programme, you can utilise this model to support its successful deployment and long-term results.
Following the aforementioned framework may help in bringing into discussion important topics and techniques that reduce resistance to change and encourage challenging the status quo in a way that supports effective change for organisational sustainability.
If you find that you would like additional support in delivering your continuous improvement programme, or you would simply like to talk one-to-one with a CI expert, get in touch.
As continuous improvement experts, we specialise in helping our clients to minimise resistance to change and successfully deliver sustainable, long-term growth.
The Henkan team is composed of skilled and knowledgeable consultants who have extensive experience in supporting clients to successfully deliver world class CI programmes.
To learn how to radically improve your performance within a CI environment, download our free eBook: Radically Improving Your Performance Within a Continuous Improvement Environment: 7-Step Process.