How to Fix Resistance to Change

As a leader, you need to understand why you and the people you work with resist change and cling to the status quo. There are five major reasons why people resist change.

The first is FEAR. Fear is internal; it’s in our head, however it is the great crippler of human potential. Fear can be divided into three basic categories:

  • Fear of Failure – Not trying ensures failure.  A better perspective on failure is to equate it with learning.  When we stop failing, we stop learning.  No mistakes = no action.
  • Fear of Criticism or Rejection – When you don’t get the sales order, it means you didn’t get the order, not that you or your product was rejected.  This can lead to feelings of “I’m not worthy.”  Your worth as an individual isn’t on the line – a business transaction is.
  • Fear of Non-Conformity – This can rob you of your uniqueness.

Ask yourself: What are my fears and how might they be holding me back?

The second reason people resist change is because of EGO. The need to be right is a powerful human need. It’s a common problem with leaders, managers, and business owners who have had a taste of success.

Ask yourself: Is it possible that my need to be right is an obstacle?

The third reason why people resist change is to avoid CONFLICT. Because when you try to do something different and create change, you’ll create and get some conflict. And conflict isn’t fun, so many people just avoid it all together.

Ask yourself: How comfortable am I with conflict?

The fourth reason that people resist change is LACK OF PURPOSE. Without a sense of purpose, people become stagnant and complacent. They also tend to get burnt out.

Ask yourself: Have I created a compelling vision for my business?

The fifth reason people resist change is LACK OF INFORMATION or poor communication.  People deal better with change equipped with information, even if the information is negative.  You cannot lead unless you have a sense of purpose – for yourself and for your team. What’s your vision? Is it something that everyone understands and has a stake in?  How do you continually communicate and reinforce your vision?

Ask yourself: How would my team rate me as a communicator of my vision?

In today’s world, we face more change in a year then our grandparents may have faced in their lifetime.  It can be overwhelming; it can be scary; it can be frustrating, or it can be exhilarating. Regardless of how you view change, the fact remains that it is very real, it won’t go away, and your business’ growth depends on it.  In his book, The Renewal Factor, Robert Waterman says, our “willingness to understand and exploit change is a powerful competitive weapon.”

Ask yourself: How well do I actively seek and exploit change?

The first step is always the most painful. To get your employees to accept and embrace change, you must first lead by example. That means that you must demonstrate your willingness and ability to change before you can expect them to change!

A simple, yet powerful way to accomplish this is to do the following:

  1. Ask your direct reports (and, if applicable, your boss) to list the top three things that you could change to make you a more effective leader. Don’t accept any fewer than three answers, because the third is usually the most important one.
  2. Compile the list of suggestions and share it with your team, then pick 2 or 3 items from the list and make a commitment to change.
  3. Share your progress with your team and ask them to help you hold yourself accountable.
  4. As you progress, it’s time to ask your team to follow in your path and complete the same exercise for themselves.

The fundamental truth is this: As goes the leadership team goes the rest of the firm.  Whatever strengths or weaknesses exist within the organization can be traced right back to the executive team and their levels of cohesion, trust, competence, discipline, and willingness to change and adapt.

Ask yourself:  Am I modeling the thoughts and behaviors I expect from my team?

Your answer to that question might not be comfortable, but it will explain precisely why your organization either is or isn’t performing the way you want.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted May 5, 2010 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    Great blog Mark!
    Embracing and actually enjoying change is a “learned” trait for most of us. In this context it is important to acquire the skill of becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable. Change takes one typically away from our comfort zone and this is true independent of the fact that the change my actually be for the better.
    Now the question may be how do we get out of our comfort zone on purpose?
    The #1 tool for that are SMART goals which by default defines the change we want to create. The most effective and efficient way to manage change for oneself as well as those around us are the right SMART goals and a working goal planning process.

    Good luck! Manfred
    QLI International

  2. Posted May 11, 2010 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    Your last question is so right on. Of course, that usually requires seeking advice from the outside because sometimes the mirrors we use to see ourselves are truly deceptive.

    What I have found interesting is people cannot clearly articulate the behaviors they are seeking. Intangible words such as professional, good, responsive are freely spoken. These words must be associated with specific behaviors relative to the role and the organization.

    Leanne Hoagland-Smith (@CoachLee)
    Increase Sales Coach

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