This is the 3rd and final instalment of a 3-part series on change management and how to manage resistance from stakeholders.
In my previous posts, I’ve outlined:
- How to define change resistance,
- What are some of the key behaviours to look out for,
- What change resistance is not,
- Why resistance happens,
- What you need to do to ensure it doesn’t happen or counter it.
Now in the final part in this series I’m going to share some of the tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way. Usually by saying the wrong thing, making mistakes and working out why certain things happened well after the fact using the magical power of hindsight (and a few more projects and years experience under my belt).
When resistance does appear, it should not be thought of as a problem that needs to go away. Instead, it is as a useful red flag — a signal that something is going or about to go wrong. Having open and honest conversations about why a change might not be right for your business, and actually listening to your staff could save you untold dollars in lost sales, productivity or reputation.
Don’t take it personally.
I know when you have invested many months (and sometimes a piece of your soul) into a project how much it can sting when an end user or stakeholder trashes it right to your face. If someone is being angry, hostile, passive, etc don’t take it personally! Remember that this person is reacting to the change — not you or specific work that you’ve done — and their behaviour indicates they are moving through the change cycle. Most of the time it has nothing to do with you at all.
Obviously this doesn’t mean be a doormat — If someone is behaving in a way that breaches your company’s values or code of conduct you should remind them of that during the interaction and potentially report it to your manager.
Don’t mention the war
Do not ever, under any circumstances tell someone they are being change resistant. They will NOT like it. Similarly, don’t ever tell someone’s manager, a sponsor or senior stakeholder that a person or a group is being change resistant. DO discuss the problem and concerns but choose your words carefully.
I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it alright…..
The first reason given for opposing a change? Often not the real reason at all.
When you are talking to someone who is resisting a change, make sure you ask a LOT of questions to ensure you understand what is really going on. Use the ‘5 why’s’. Get to the bottom of the issue. Often change resistance is because of a deeply personal reason and trust needs to be built in order for the real reason to come out. This is why sometimes people lie about their reasons for opposing (which can then create a flurry of reactive activity within a project team).
That really annoying person that won’t shut up about why the change won’t work? = YOUR NEW BFF.
It takes a lot of courage to speak out against something. Most people will smile and nod during a meeting and then bitch amongst themselves as soon as it’s over. The opinions of this person may reflect the opinions of many others, who are not confident speaking up, and will passively sit back and let this person be the one to stick their neck out.
Sometimes in the past this person has been me, firstly because I am a change manager and I think (sometimes naively) ‘oh well they obviously want our feedback and troubleshooting of issues early will help the project!’ but secondly because I actually can’t sit by quietly while something that is not right for staff or customers gets implemented. Many times, after I’ve spoken up in a meeting and/or said the thing no one else had the guts to say, 5 or 6 people come up to me after the meeting and say ‘OMG thank you soooo much for bringing that up! I really wanted to say it but was just way too scared!’
That person, the one who always speaks up — ignoring them and wishing they would go away is the absolute worst thing you can do. This person is your new bestie. Have a coffee with them, take them out for lunch, LISTEN to what they have to say, they obviously aren’t afraid to be honest with you or your superiors. Make sure you have the message right, take notes, usually summarising a conversation in an email is a good idea. These people are usually leaders within their peer groups, so if you can involve them and turn them into an advocate for the change, they will spread a lot of positive noise around and really make your life easier. Without the support from these types of people it will be almost impossible to counter resistance.
People who are labelled as ‘annoying’ or ‘mouthy’ are often excluded from testing or pilot exercises. This is a mistake. If you only include people in these exercises who won’t ask questions and will sign things off, you are in for some major trouble when your project goes live.
That’s it for now on resistance to change. I would love to hear what kind of things would be helpful to you — real life examples of resistance and what I did to counter it? Examples of times I made mistakes and what I learnt from that? Let me know.
I hope this information helps you on your change management journeys.
This article first appeared on Casa de Cambio and has been republished here with permission.
Cover image: Shutterstock
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