Generating change without generating resistance

Is resistance really a necessary part of change? It’s a question many HR leaders are likely to have mulled over. Resistance or reluctance is often expected to be the initial and potentially, overriding response to any organisational change programme. Whatever the driver behind the change – whether it’s a major re-structure or a culture change programme – resistance to change can cost a business money, and if change fails, it can cost a business a lot more.

But, is it possible to generate change without generating resistance? And how can we encourage our employees to engage constructively with the future instead of clinging to the past?

These were the questions we set out to explore at our most recent HR Leaders event. With the help of an expert coach and an engaged and experienced group of HR Leaders we discussed our own experience of change, both at an individual and corporate level, and why in certain situations or organisations we experience more resistance to change than in others.

Driving a positive response to change

We understand any change, big or small, drives discomfort, it’s human nature. Change is not something we’re naturally inclined to want to do. We often associate change with a loss of control, something that is done to us rather than something we want to do, which can lead to negative thoughts, feelings and behaviours and a general resistance to change.

However, in business, we know change is unavoidable, and often one period of change leads to another, meaning business success relies on its employees willingness to change. As HR, we must try our best to create a culture that embraces change, but as we know this can be a difficult task.

We know that many organisations navigate change successfully and come out the other side stronger, but what is it these organisations are doing differently to generate a positive response to change:

  • Increase purpose – understand and develop the loop within your business that pulls people together
  • Team cohesion – Strengthen the bond that exists within teams to achieve an attitude of ‘we’ rather than ‘me’ so that when experiencing change employees feel as if they are ‘in it together’ rather than facing it alone
  • Encourage autonomy – Employees should feel they have all the information needed to make informed and uncoerced decisions
  • Communicate the vision – Employees should clearly understand the reasons, business drivers and goals of any change programme
  • Know your people – Carry out pulse surveys, qualitative interviews and informal discussion panels to get to know the people within your organisation better
  • Expectations – Be as clear as possible on how the change process will impact employees before, during and after. For example, will individuals be expected to take on a greater workload?
  • Planning – Plan the change process as far in advance as possible to avoid major disruption where possible
  • Re-think how you communicate change – design and communicate change programmes in a way that highlights the positives to the business and individuals

Leadership – a potential barrier?

Before putting these measures in place, there is one key element their success relies on and that is buy in from senior leaders across the business to transform the view of change.

Expressed by many HR Leaders in attendance as often being a major barrier to encouraging a culture that accepts change, leaders must put the right ‘face’ to change. Acting as an example of the expected response and in turn driving the desired behaviours and response from employees.

It must also be clear who is accountable for communications, Leadership, HR or a mix of the two, whoever responsible, it’s HR’s job to encourage leaders to drive and reinforce messages in all change communications.

To ensure successful outcomes, the right balance between HR and the Leadership team must be struck, this means working closely together and fully bringing leaders into the change process so that plans and messaging are aligned to achieve the desired response.

The power of HR

So, what if you, HR, are fully aware of the best way to manage the change process to reduce resistance, however you don’t feel you have the power needed to navigate potential leadership barriers?

Firstly, you must be clear on what the organisation wants to achieve from the change programme and their expectations on employees. Once understood, it’s important to align all plans to the leadership teams goals offering reassurance that all elements within the process will help reach the end goal.

If the barrier is a lack of confidence in HR’s ability to execute plans, you must confidently and competently solve smaller problems successfully, moving on to the next and eventually gaining the credibility to lead on larger issues. Now is also the time to harness powerful relationships you have around the business, the key is to win allies who can help drive your vision and help you have a voice.

The overall goal? Position HR as experts, not just the team responsible for the transactional aspects of HR.

By doing this you can confidently advise on the measures and initiatives needed to shape and impact your organisations response to change. Taking the necessary steps by building the right culture, having the correct messaging and through leadership buy in you can begin to move your business from reluctance and resistance to change to acceptance and positivity.