CEO’s today are constantly trying to improve their organisation’s competitive performance. This means the implementation of change programmes to meet increasing customer expectations, as well as improving cost, schedule and quality targets. Change has been an inherent part of human life since time began, but it is happening at a faster rate within business, with technology being the key driver. Not to implement improvement and change could be considered business suicide and would be questioned by the board and key stakeholders. So, why do so many CEO’s face employee resistance and fail to realise the potential benefits of improvement and change?
Most organisations will encounter resistance to change, whether the change is perceived by employees as impacting them in a positive or negative way. Resistance can take many forms, it can be overt or covert, as well as active or passive. Organisational leaders cannot control the world changing around them, but they should try to understand employee groups within a change and move them quickly towards understanding resistance and acceptance of the change.
“Nothing negatively impacts organisation performance quicker than employees who resists change and who believes that the way they work today is the way they will work tomorrow” ~ Peter F Gallagher
Employee Groups involved in a Change Journey
There are three groups of employees in any change management journey: ‘Advocates’, ‘Observers’ and ‘Rebels’. Each group will react differently to organisational change and will have different levels of resistance.
~ Advocates: They tend to embrace and lead change within the organisation. This group of employees are more comfortable with change, see the positives and should be the organisation’s first targets in the change. However, is it also important that the organisation’s leadership and management engage, listen to feedback and support the advocates through the change process.
~ Observers: They will monitor the ‘Advocates’ and assess if the change is actually benefiting them. If this appears positive, they will tend to move towards being receptive to the change. They will want to understand ‘What’s In it For Me?’ (WIFM). To facilitate the transition of the ‘Advocates’ from the current state 'a' to the desired and improved state 'B', the change team should create employee desire to move towards the ‘Tipping Point’ in their messaging and communication.
~ Rebels: They tend to resist change blindly, even if the change is to their benefit. The default reaction is that change is a bad thing and will put them at a disadvantage. While this can in some cases be put down to bad experience, there is also fear of the unknown, the new skills required, “Will I be needed in the future?” A lot more engagement and communication will be needed with this group to get them involved. The objective is to ensure they follow the ‘Advocates’, but some ‘Rebels’ will not make the transition.
“Without employee resistance, you will not achieve organisational change" ~ Peter F Gallagher
Tactics to reduce resistance and move towards the Tipping Point
There are many tactics to reduce resistance, Change History Assessment (CHA) will impact future success and should be considered as part of the approach, using our registered a2B Change Management Framework® (a2BCMF®).
1. Communication: No matter how much you think you are communicating, the old consultant rule is to “Communicate 10 times more than you are”. Employees want to know what is changing; organisation, process, people, service or product. It is also important to communicate what is not changing because this reduces the anxiety of any change, as most people like routine.
2. Articulating the Business Case for Change: One of the first questions an employee will want to know is what the Business Case is for the Change (BCC). The BCC should outline the strategic reason why the organisation needs to change, why it needs to become more effective, more efficient or more competitive. It should also outline the tangible value of change and explain the change in a meaningful way for employees.
3. Share the ‘WIFM’: The most important consideration for the employee is the ‘What’s In it For Me’ (WIFM) element, the question everyone asks before, during and after the change. How will this affect me, what do I gain and what do I lose? If one can answer the job security question early you can start to reduce change resistance in the process.
4. Sponsorship: Without effective and proactive project sponsorship, change projects will eventually fail. The Sponsor’s role will be to reduce resistance in what they ‘Say’, as well as how they ‘Support’ and ‘Sustain’ the change. Activities will include articulating the strategy, explaining the change business case and how this aligns to the organisation’s vision and the employee perspective in terms of the ‘WIFM’ factor.
5. Change Agents: Can be employees from inside the organisation. They should have credibility within the organisation and the business lines/function they represent. They act as the conduit between the employees and the change team, focussing on the people side and interactions between their business lines/function and the change team. Change agents should focus their time on engaging the ‘Rebels’ to break down barriers of resistance.
Peter F Gallagher is a Change Management Global Thought Leader, Expert, International Speaker, Author and Leadership Alignment Coach.
Ranked #1 Change Management Global Thought Leader: Top 50 Global Thought Leaders and Influencers on Change Management (May 2020) by Thinkers360.
Business Book Ranking: Change Management Pocket Guide - Leadership of Change® Volume 2, ranked within the top 50 Business and Technology Books (Jan 2020) from Thinkers360 Thought Leaders.