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Derailed by Resistance: How to Get Your Change Initiative Back on Track

change leadership change management change readiness resistance Sep 06, 2021

Identifying and addressing the need for change in the workplace seems straightforward at face value but departing from the status quo – whether it’s to follow a new procedure, use a new system, or behave a certain way – requires so much more than an update or announcement. When confronted with change, people respond differently depending on a variety of factors, and many - if not most - of those factors begin and end with the way the transitions are handled.

Change readiness - one’s ability to introduce and react to change in sustainable and adaptive ways - is a competency that can be developed by boosting resilience over time. Resilience is a key strategy that can help individuals and teams view change “as a challenge, not a paralyzing event,”¹ and accelerate buy-in, which is critical for ownership and adoption. 

Sitting exactly opposite from change readiness lies resistance. Often fueled by poor communication, lack of clarity, and a loss of control, resistance is a completely normal human response to change.  Resistance also tends to surface when the solution doesn’t work as intended; change management gets skipped, and/or when the employee experience is ignored.    

In this article, we will discuss impacts of resistance and present methods change leaders can use to diagnose the problem(s) and prescribe workable solutions to get change projects back on track. Let’s start at the beginning when you realize things aren’t going as planned or desired.

The Realization

You’re a program manager who’s been tasked with implementing a strategic initiative that will change how employees interact with a new technology system and external partners. You are part way through the rollout when you realize the adoption rates are not where they need to be and negative feedback concerning the new process and tool are circulating. Your boss wants an update on how it’s going. What do you do? 

Let’s take stock of what happened.

Resistance to change is to be expected. In the workplace, resistance typically shows up as non-compliance, poor employee engagement or morale, and/or slow-to-no adoption. While there are several strategies to preempt unnecessary pushback, determining what isn’t working after the fact is also within the responsibilities of a change leader. 

Diagnosing the problem(s) that led to derailment starts with looking at your change management strategy and plans to confirm you did everything you could to promote a transparent rollout. This includes ensuring stakeholders were aware, ready, and trained so they could more quickly accept, adopt, and sustain the required changes.  The following questions can be used to help identify potential problem areas:

Stakeholder Engagement

  • Do you have an executive sponsor who actively advocates for the change and engages with their peers when conflict arises? 
  • Do you have influencers (change champions) who help promote the benefits for the change via their peer networks? 
  • Do you meet regularly with the sponsor, project / change team members, and other key stakeholders to share program updates, issues, and wins? 
  • Have you checked in with managers regarding employee well-being, and offered tools to reduce stress, coach for success, and / or build resilience? 

Communications 

  • Does the leadership team share the vision for the change, and has it been clearly articulated to all impacted stakeholders?
  • Have you developed and shared messaging that describes the reasons for the change and its benefits? 
  • Do you have a regular communications cadence that keeps stakeholders informed and gives them enough time to prepare for next steps?  
  • Are you using the right strategy to cascade information throughout teams, recognizing the important role supervisors play in disseminating information? 

Training/Support

  • Do stakeholders understand what’s changing in terms of how they used to perform their job and how they will soon be expected to?
  • Is the training approach/format sufficient for the size and scope of the change?
  • Did the training approach include opportunities to practice either during the training or shortly thereafter to ensure the knowledge was retained? 
  • Did you assess competency post-training to ensure stakeholders understood how to perform in the new environment? 

The Proof

Once you have identified the areas that may require improvement, you will need data to support your strategy to regain buy-in and/or make forward progress with the initiative. Diagnosing the problem(s) accurately requires a holistic approach to collecting the information that will ultimately inform your plans to fix the issues. Keep in mind that not all issues you have identified in your role as change leader will be able to be addressed by you alone. Always engage the appropriate team(s) when necessary. 

What data do you need and how to get it?

Anecdotes and assumptions don’t go far with executives, which means you must prove the problems exist both quantitatively and qualitatively. Quantitative data can be sourced from surveys, system data, financial information, reported outcomes, time studies, and more. Qualitative data can be collected during forums, feedback calls, one-on-one discussions, or shadowing and observation. 

Change leaders can use the information acquired during the data collection phase to evaluate the efficacy of their change program as well as the change itself. Apogy’s ART model, which summarizes the goals and outcomes for sustainable change, offers a straightforward way to diagnose problems within the change management strategy, plans, and execution tactics. Consider the following: 

  • Aware – people know what is changing, why, and the impacts on their role
  • Ready – people understand the goals, benefits, and feel supported by leadership
  • Trained – people have been trained, and can perform in the new environment

Apogy’s SUPER measurement framework can produce insights pertaining to the change itself. SUPER reminds change leaders to evaluate satisfaction, utilization, proficiency, engagement and any other desired results. Make sure to align on the metrics you as the change leader are responsible for tracking and influencing with your team and sponsor. 

The Solution

With data in hand, you can feel empowered to analyze and address the root cause issues with targeted strategies that meet employees where they are. As part of your analysis, consider a priority list to help separate what you can accomplish immediately from what might take more time. Share this information with your leadership team to ensure they agree with the steps you will take to get the change initiative back on track.

Give your recommendations a boost by incorporating resilience building activities into the plans. Stress, overwhelm, feeling disconnected - these are very real issues that impact productivity, learning, collaboration, and change readiness. Simple tactics such as hosting webinars to improve managers’ coaching competencies can make an immediate impact, while more significant changes such as instituting an enterprise change prioritization process will take more time and effort, but will ultimately reduce the overlap and conflicts that lead to resistance. 

Summary

It is important to remember that those prone to resistance in your organization are not intentionally blocking progress and they are not more likely to fail. Resilient individuals and/or teams are not immune from failure either; instead, they are more likely to experience failure, learn from their mistakes, and press on to new heights because of it. The role of a change leader is to hold the vision for the future despite setbacks, and use their skills to empower others along the way. The sooner we recognize resistance is a given, the faster we can diagnose the problems and prescribe data-driven solutions to not only get back on track initiative-wise but bounce back as a team.

 

 

 

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1) Gleeson, B. (2020, November 05). 5 Top Reasons Resilience At Work Matters. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/brentgleeson/2020/11/04/5-top-reasons-resilience-at-work-matters/?sh=7fd049f069ce

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