Change is a necessary part of life. Things cannot always stay the same, otherwise we’d constantly be in a state of inertia and never develop or become more rounded human beings. The same applies to business – how can a company grow and begin to lead in its industry if it never changes?
Most businesses do recognise the importance of change and attempt to implement it wherever they can, but there is an obstacle that they will all come up against at some point: the willingness of its workers to embrace those changes.
People tend to be predisposed towards either embracing change when it occurs or resisting it (either passively or aggressively) for as long as possible. While those who embrace change are a dream to lead as a manager, those who resist change present more of a challenge. In order to find ways of convincing them that the changes will have a positive effect, it’s important to understand why people not only resist change, but also why they embrace it.
Why People Embrace Change
The reasons why some people embrace change are more difficult to discern than the reasons why people don’t embrace change. In many cases it’s an inbuilt, more open state of mind – those who embrace change may do so naturally. They might enjoy finding new and better ways of doing things, for example, and this makes them extremely useful as far as their companies are concerned.
They tend to recognise that change bears fruit more often than not, and take the viewpoint that keeping things as they are would be more damaging than the potential risks that change represents. Staying still only ensures that no progress can be made, while changing at least offers the chance of progress. On balance, embracing change usually bears fruit.
In addition, they might be working under managers or team leaders that have already demonstrated their competence and ability to lead successfully, and this will give them confidence that the changes will be successful and beneficial for themselves and the company as a whole. If they think that the people in charge know what they’re doing then they will be less resistant to change.
They may also be the type of people who relish the opportunity to learn and develop not only professionally but also personally – if they are, then they will see the change as an opportunity to further their own development and put in the effort to ensure that it is successful.
Why People Resist Change
The reasons why people resist change can be both superficial and more deeply-rooted, but past experience is one of the more common reasons. If they have had a bad experience with change in the past than they will naturally be more resistant to the idea of change now. In addition, if the current change is stemming from a negative event then they will already be in a negative, pessimistic state of mind where they don’t believe that the change will make any difference to the situation.
Fear is the other big obstacle as far as those resisting change are concerned. They may be worried about what the change means for their job security, whether they will be able to adapt to it and whether they can now control their own destiny at work.
Some employees may also simply resist change due to a lack of motivation – why should they expend extra effort learning new techniques and processes when they can do their jobs perfectly well as things are? They might also secretly believe that they know better than those in charge, and actively resist change on those grounds.
An HR department can do a lot to ensure that change is embraced by receptive employees rather than rejected by close-minded employees. For instance, allowing immediate managers (i.e. people whose faces are known and who are respected) to introduce the changes rather than anonymous people from the corporate office will help convince teams that they are being made for the benefit of everyone concerned. They can alleviate fears about changes to day-to-day processes by offering training if needed, and they can be as transparent as possible with teams about the thought and management processes that led to the changes being made.
About the Author
Chris Steer is an L&D Consultant focusing on Management and Leadership at Thales Learning & Development. Chris’s work involves a wide range of disciplines, from designing and developing training courses, to coaching and 360 feedback, to psychometric testing.
Chris is a regular contributor to Enhance – The Magazine for Learning and Development.