Workforce Management

5 Steps for Overcoming Resistance to Change in the Workplace

manager talking through change with employee

On top of their everyday tasks, your management team is often tasked with negotiating their departments through stressful situations. When a vital process is altered, it’s up to your managers to use their skills to implement changes.

While it’s natural for some employees to be resistant to change, it’s also necessary for managers to understand steps for overcoming resistance to change to ensure the smoothest transition possible.

We’ve outlined five steps that your managers should take when an employee resists change in the workplace. This kind of conversation isn’t for everyone on the team to be in on, so managers should find an office or other setting where they can speak privately with their employee without interruption from others.

1. State the Problem Using Examples

Managers need to start with assuming the best about their employee, and try to put themselves in the other person’s shoes. They should first explain in detail how the employee’s actions are affecting the team’s productivity, and what the employee is not doing to help implement the change.

For instance, they could say to the employee, “James, this has been a challenging week for a lot of us, so I appreciate your good nature. However, I noticed that you haven’t been passing your work over to Ally for review. This is creating an extra step for the design team, who has to have Ally sign off on all content.”

This indicates to James that there is a problem resulting from his actions, while also alerting him to the behaviors that need to change to resolve the situation.

2. State the Importance of the Change

Often, the employee may not feel that the changes being made are worthwhile. However, changes in large organizations rarely happen without planning and careful consideration, so the resistance could stem from the employee simply not understanding how changing a process might benefit them.

It’s up to your managers to effectively communicate the benefits of the change to every team member, and to reiterate these benefits to team members who are resistant and slow to adapt to change.

Following our previous example, your manager would need to make sure James understands how the changes will benefit not only him, but the entire organization. “James, if you can send your content to Ally, she’s able to approve it faster, meaning you’re able to turn around your projects much faster. And since Ally is a subject matter expert, we’re able to provide valuable content immediately to our audience.”

3. Listen to the Employee and Look for Misunderstandings

It’s important for your managers to create an atmosphere where employees feel safe to voice their concerns, and can have their concerns reasonably addressed.

That’s why managers need strong active listening skills, so they can hear what is really being said, and look for potential misunderstandings. When a manager communicates changes with their team, there could be plenty of places for misunderstandings to occur.

Overcoming resistance to change could be as simple as clarifying a directive with your employees. 

4. State Expectations and Get Commitment

You want your managers to give their employees every opportunity to adapt to a change, which means ensuring they understand what is expected from them.

On top of providing clear expectations, it’s very important to get commitment. If employees commit to adapting to change, they are considerably more likely to follow through.

This step also helps managers stay committed and accountable to making changes when their team is fully on board.

5. Follow up

Make sure your managers know to set up a follow up appointment with the employee before ending the meeting.

That way, the manager can review expectations and discuss if they’re being met. If they are, it’s a great opportunity for the manager to thank their employee, and to seek feedback and other suggestions. If they’re not, then another conversation to clarify what was discussed last time is in order.

Empowering your managers to have positive outcomes following tough conversations is a great way to protect your business in the future, make sure that your changes are implemented properly, and to retain employees through proactive measures.

Offering these managers the right tools to expand their skills in emotional intelligence, communication, conflict management, and more can go a long way in developing an empowering culture in your organization.

If you’re looking for a simple way to train managers on these types of difficult conversations, our online content library can provide you with engaging and effective video training on a variety of topics like this. 

Watch a one-minute preview of “Organizational Change: Understanding Resistance” from The BizLibrary Collection here:

Training & Development Industry Researcher | Derek researches, discusses, and writes about the impacts of employee learning on organizations and individuals. He regularly interviews L&D and HR professionals, sharing their insight on trends and best practices that help organizations create stronger training programs, and help to grow their employees and their business.