Dealing with change resisters

March 18, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

Every moment of every day, change is all around us. Seasons change. Weather changes. Our bodies change. Our lives change. Likewise, business changes. Every day, new businesses are born – some grow, prosper, and endure for a long, healthy life, while others stumble and die. The one constant we can be sure of is that change is relentless. Some embrace it with open arms. Some wait to see what the new reality looks like and then jump onboard. And then there are the change resisters that hold onto the status quo with a white-knuckled grip.

Contrary to popular belief, change resisters don’t exist to drive you crazy – even though they can and do. Change resisters simply deal with change differently than most. They lock into patterns of thinking, behavior, systems, and cultures that become their “normal.” They get good at functioning in their “normal.” They know everything about their “normal.” And then change comes along, often with a wrecking ball, and starts knocking down their “normal” to replace it with something new and foreign. Their natural response is to protect their “normal” by resisting change.

Here are some no-compromise strategies to deal with change resisters:

  • Avoid escalation: Just as the natural response for change resisters is to push back on change, the leader’s natural response is to push back on the resistance. As both sides dig in their heels, things can get pretty ugly and funky and spread throughout the department or the entire company. Yes, ultimately the change initiative must prevail, but escalating too fast will have that wrecking ball busting up a lot of other good stuff in the process.
  • Change is a process: Your raving loyal fans, because they trust you, will follow you into the fury of change. (God bless raving loyal fans.) Fence sitters need to really see and understand the change before they jump onboard. Change resisters not only need to see and understand the change, but they also require a deep understanding and extensive coaching to bring them over to your side. Consider this: it may require ten times more attention to get change resisters to change than it does fence sitters.
  • Understand resistance: Think of change as putting a “Closed for Renovations” sign on everyone’s comfort zone. Change resisters feel vulnerable and threatened. Even if the old way is inefficient, they’re good at it. It’s like trying to break a habit – it takes time to adapt. Relentless communication, coaching, training, and reassurance are all necessary to engage change resisters in the process of change, and as a result, you’ll boost employee confidence and diminish any fears. Exclude the change resisters and you’ll just widen the gap and feed resistance.
  • Veteran employees: Old habits do die hard – especially with veteran employees. Compared to new employees that you can mold like clay, some veteran employees seemingly require a hammer and chisel to change. Many veteran employees are mentors and embody the culture and spirit of the company. Get them into the change initiative early. Help them understand their mentor role in helping the rest of the team embrace and adapt to change. Keeping veterans on the outside is a surefire way to make your veterans feel unappreciated and irrelevant.
  • Shrink their audience: Change resisters like having an audience they can preach their defiance to. I call this the “Boohoo Tribe.” Keeping your change initiative focused, on course, and positive will build your “Woohoo Tribe.” As the change initiative spawns small wins that turn into big wins, the Woohoo Tribe celebrates. Boohoo Tribe members see the progress, excitement, and fun and begin defecting in droves to the Woohoo Tribe. Gradually, change resisters lose their audience and stand alone.
  • Decision time: Eventually, it’s time for you and the change resister to decide to either move forward together or part ways. How quickly decision time arrives depends on the magnitude of the change initiative, the level of resistance, and the state of the company. When a company is in need of major change to survive, the patience timeline for resisters may be rather short, perhaps days or weeks. Sometimes specific change resisters have been tolerated for years holding the company and its leader hostage. Those change resisters need to move on by choice or invitation. In most cases, if a change resister refuses to join the Woohoo Tribe a few months into the change initiative, it’s time to cut them loose. Keeping them onboard is a major compromise.

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Categories: Leadership , Monday Morning Wake-Up , No-Compromise Leadership , Staff Retention , Teamwork

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  1. As always Neil….enjoyed your “Wake Up” and theme of “Change” especially relevant this Monday. Our industry said a final good by to Rick Goldberg whose funeral was yesterday. He was energetic force of creativity and inspired a whole generation of young professionals during his illustrious albeit brief career. Rick’s favorite expression….”Change is Good” makes me smile!


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