In a recent Harvard Business Review blog, Rosabeth Moss Kanter writes that successfully leading people through change requires that a manager first understand the reasons that people resist any alteration to their routines. Kanter says that manifestations of resistance at every level, from foot-dragging to outright rebellion, can be managed if the leader recognizes the “predictable, universal sources of resistance” and then develops strategies for maneuvering around them.
In her experience, five of the most common reasons that people resist change are:
- Loss of control — When change is imposed, individuals feel they’ve lost self-determination and their sense of autonomy. By inviting employees to participate in planning changes, a leader gives them choices. As a result, employees will take ownership in the outcome.
- Excess uncertainty — People would usually prefer to remain “mired in misery,” Kanter says, than head into the unknown. Leaders need to help employees prepare for change by explaining the process and outlining the timetable.
- Surprise, surprise! — People need time to get used to the idea of a major change that’s coming. Instead of springing a major re-tooling on them without warning, a leader should at least communicate hints about changes ahead, and preferably, include them in the planning.
- Everything seems different — A lot of changes all at once can be confusing and disorienting. Leaders need to consider how much needs to changed and keep as much of the familiar as possible while implementing a series of changes gradually.
- Loss of face — Individuals who have been with the organization a long time, and especially those who may have participated in creating current procedures, will be defensive when another way of doing business is instituted. Kanter advises leaders to “help people maintain dignity by celebrating those elements of the past that are worth honoring, and making it clear that the world has changed.” This will help people let go of the old and adopt the new.