Improvement, by definition, requires altering behaviors. And since most people show a reluctance to change, it follows that improvement efforts can be an uphill battle.
Let’s start by addressing 8 of the major reasons why people resist change.
Fear causes resistance to change.
Fear. By far the biggest reason for resistance to change, fear creates paralysis. People get worried that the new way won’t work, that they will not do well following the modified process, or that it will mean having to change to another job within the company. Worst of all, they fear layoffs.
Comfort. When people have it good, they are reluctant to give that up. This is most common when an improvement effort in one area requires additional work in another area. For example, let’s assume area ‘A’ can save 10 minutes by moving 5 minutes of work to area ‘B’. The employees in area ‘B’ are likely to be less than thrilled by the change, especially if things were humming along smoothly for them.
Not perceiving a need. When things are going well, there is often little thought of the challenge or threat down the road. It is hard to rally the troops when there is no crisis.
No faith in the process. As powerful as Lean is, if employees have had a bad experience with it, or have no background in it, they will be unlikely to throw their support behind it.
Lack of knowledge. People don’t want to feel helpless. If they think that the change will make them a novice again, they won’t want to move in that direction.
Lack of trust. Team members have to trust their guides when trying something new. If they don’t have that bond with their leaders, they won’t want to follow their managers forward.
Heavy-handedness by leaders. Making changes is difficult. When teams are moving cautiously, leaders can make matters worse by pushing too hard. People have to be led into change, not forced into it.
Personal preference. Some people have a personal style that makes it hard for them to accept change. This is basically the ‘other’ category of resistance. Some people just like things the way they are.
So given that there is a lot of variety in why people resist change, it follows that there are many things that leaders must do to prepare their teams for transition.
The first is that leaders should know the people working for them. That means frequently visiting work areas to talk to their employees one-on-one. It is surprising how often key leaders don’t spend time speaking with people beyond their direct reports.
When leaders know how their teams think, they can customize a change management plan that matches the culture of the organization. There are a few universal steps, though, that leaders should always take.
Communicate. This means clearly spelling out the need for change, and it means explaining where the organization is going. A word of caution to leaders: Be direct and honest. Not every decision is going to benefit employees as much as other stakeholders. Employees are smart and will see through efforts to repackage unpopular decisions in a favorable light.
Train. Give employees the tools to feel comfortable with change. Teams have to be confident that they have the necessary skills as a group to handle any challenges that come up.
Demonstrate success. Teams won’t want to make wholesale changes without proof. They need to see some examples of success early on in the transition before they will fully support a new method.
Involve teams in decision making. Give teams a voice. When they are heard, they will be more likely to get on board. There is a pitfall here, though, if employees start to see this as mere lip service. Leaders have to use employee suggestions at least some of the time. More of the time is even better.
Communicate more. Leaders should find out how the change is going, but more importantly, they should be looking for the hidden, unmet needs of their teams. Often, the stated reasons for resistance to change are not the real ones.
If those steps above don’t work, there is some soul searching ahead. As a last resort, people and companies have to decide if they are a good match for each other. No matter how good a job is, or how talented an individual is, if the cultural match is missing, it is going to be a long bumpy ride.
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