Catalytic leadership: Leading change and managing resistance

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

Resistance to change is one of the hardest things to face, and follow-through one of the hardest things to do. It’s easy to become defensive about changes—you risk running off track, rolling over skeptics, losing goodwill or ignoring red flags.

To manage resistance:

1. Explain. People whose jobs are changing need to understand why. Alison, an IT executive, was changing her hospital’s computer systems. Throughout the process, she had told her executives why changes were happening. She assumed they would tell the rank-and-file. She was wrong. The bosses had been reluctant to talk about “bad news” and hadn’t felt equipped to answer questions. The consequence: wild launch meetings.

2. Figure out what’s changing. Drop down two levels and you may not have a clue how the change will affect people’s jobs. If you nuke complaints, you’ll probably kill reasonable discussion. Any talk in the early stages will help keep information flowing.

3. Change the change. Resistance actually can lead to better results.

4. Prepare for debate. Sharon’s job: Merge 30 billing specialists into her 110-person call center. By opening the floor for discussion, she learned that the two biggest worries were pay scales and office space allotment.  Creating a “worry list” and an “idea list” enabled her to go to the executive team and draft action items that everyone embraced.

5. Respect what went before because resistance may have nothing to do with the current plan. Employees remember bad stuff. That’s what happened to George, head of a vehicle service organization, when he planned to upgrade his team’s mapping and communications devices. To his amazement, he hit a wall.

Under a previous regime, George’s employees never received promotions they were promised for meeting an eight-week switchover. When he found out, George apologized to each man and set things right.

“You know what made the biggest difference to me?” one employee said. “Seeing that George was shocked and sorry to find out we had been treated like that in the first place. The way he said he was sorry, even though he hadn’t done anything, I knew we had a friend.”

— Adapted from “Decoding Resistance to Change,” Jeffrey D. Ford and Laurie W. Ford, Harvard Business Review.

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