From Above and Below: Overcoming A Culture of Change Resistance

“Change” can become a dirty word. For some, it can come to represent the failure of existing efforts and processes, unexpected challenges or simply a deviation from what is operationally comfortable and familiar. This distaste for rethinking old assumptions runs deep and manifests in the form of change resistance – both in leadership and front-line employees.

According to ExecOnline research, leaders observe high rates of resistance to change at every level of the executive foodchain: 68 percent of leaders say their employees are highly resistant to changes to the status quo. At the same time 43 percent also report observing other leaders resisting change.

From this data it is clear that resistance to change is a widespread challenge confronting both leaders and organizations. Why are such significant portions of organizations so resistant? More importantly, how can change readiness be built into every level of staff and leadership interaction?

Understanding Culture and Creating Buy-In

While sometimes uncomfortable, change is essential to ensuring operations can adapt as markets shift, integrate new technology, improve efficiency and make the most of fluctuating demands and tastes. But when something isn’t working – or alternatively could work better – why would someone resist changing to accommodate?

“It’s natural to conclude that people simply don’t like to change, and that’s the reason they resist it,” Bard Papegaaij, research director at Gartner, told “Smarter With Gartner”. “Unfortunately things aren’t that simple.”

Papegaaij emphasizes that change resistance can be traced to a variety of different factors and that only by understanding the root cause of this apprehension can we overcome change resistance. One factor which plays a serious role in whether or not an individual is ready to embrace change is culture. Does an organization or business value innovation and rethinking old assumptions? Or is maintaining the status quo a top priority? How do these values manifest day to day?

Within our own experience, ExecOnline has observed that only by understanding how culture impacts change management can leaders develop strategies to navigate and shape the future of their companies. In this regard, senior leadership can can set the tone for their organization’s culture of change readiness by creating buy-ins for employees that are aligned with change initiatives.

Sadly, this approach from senior leadership is uncommon: In our research, only 39 percent of mid-mangers reported that senior leaders effectively created buy-ins for change initiatives. So without support from the top, what incentive do employees have to embrace new and innovative ideas on an organizational level?

Creating a Culture of Change Readiness

Executive leaders have to be ready to diagnose the culture of their organization and often this means changing the way they approach change – both emotionally and intellectually. ExecOnline has found that leaders regularly find themselves stymied by “change fatigue” among employees when new initiatives are introduced. While there is often a learning curve when dealing with operational change, this fatigue has its roots in something deeper: Without top-down executive support, even improvements in efficiency can feel like just another hassle to an employee.

To overcome this resistance, leaders must align their department’s culture with strategic objectives. Rather than pass down an executive mandate, approaching employees with the attitude of collective vested interest is key.

Leaders must ask themselves: Am I ready to embrace change? What are our key objectives and how are the benefits diffused throughout the organization? What resistance do I feel coming from within and without, and what is at the root of this apprehension? How can I foster a culture of change readiness?

“Before you try to tackle the change resistance working against the success of your … organization, start by monitoring your own resistance — for instance, by listening to the kind of language you are using,” Papegaaij said. “Embody the changes you aim for to be able to inspire and lead your people.”

ExecOnline has observed that, to accelerate change readiness and operational agility, there are five key adaptive competencies:

  • Robustness
  • Resilience
  • Hedging
  • Agility
  • Versatility

With our Accelerating Change Readiness and Agility program, we teach leaders how to gain greater command of their companies’ needs and more effectively take advantage of change and innovative opportunities in a fast-moving and competitive landscape. The goal is to develop the personal agility of leaders, allowing them to build their teams’ capabilities and shape the organizational environment. To learn more, contact ExecOnline today.



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