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Five Ways To Reduce Resistance To Change

Managing Complex ProjectsRecently I wrote on this blog about ways to spot resistance to change. Having recognised that your team is feeling uncomfortable about the transformation effort, or whatever this project is changing about the way they do their jobs, you’ll want to do something constructive about that.

My top tip is to think about the fact that implementing new strategy is going to make people anxious. Whether your strategic plan takes you ahead of the competition by leaps and bounds or delivers incremental step change, you are going to be putting people outside of their comfort zone. And people don’t like that.

It’s definitely worth spending a little time at the beginning of your implementation effort to think about the people risks around the project. Consider:

  • What could stop this project from being successful?
  • How are people going to feel about it when they really know what the strategy means for them?
  • What kind of planning can we do now to offset some of those feelings?

This kind of risk management and advance planning will help you be more open to identifying resistance to change and it will give you a headstart in bringing those people along on the journey in a way that works for them.

Plus, advance planning always saves you time in the long run (assuming that you are planning for the right things!). The time saved can make the difference between the resistance being a small inconvenience or a big problem.

Thinking ahead is a good thing, but it’s not the only way that you can help break down the walls of resistance that you encounter as you try to get your strategic projects off the ground.

Here are 5 things you can do to help your teams and colleagues get through the change barrier.

1. Acknowledge The Problem

You’ve heard what people are saying; you’ve seen the body language in meetings. You’ve met directors who talk the talk but who don’t follow through by leading their teams according to the new strategic guidelines.

Don’t ignore the fact that there is a change management problem. Pretending it’s all OK won’t solve anything. Hoping it will go away as they learn more about the amazing business plans isn’t going to help either – it won’t.

Consider this a type of conflict management: far better to do something (however small) to address the problem as soon as possible.

2. Scale Up The Issue

You’ve heard that one team is struggling to come to terms with the new ways of working and that they aren’t embracing your project with open arms. It’s tempting to say, “But it’s only one team, we don’t have time to waste on pandering to a handful of people when everyone else is OK with it.”

Everyone else is not OK with it: trust me.

If one team feels like that, then there is bound to be others, who don’t have the courage or time or access to tell you that the upcoming changes are bothering them too.

You want to assume that lots of people are feeling the same way. If you’re right, you get to tackle it all in one go. If you’re wrong, your change management efforts haven’t done any harm. But if you ignore it, all those quiet team leaders will start to find their voice towards the end of your project when it’s too late to react quickly and simply.

3. Listen

Listen to what people are saying and make time to really understand what they are concerned about. Strategic initiatives can be daunting, not least because if you label something with ‘strategy’ it then feels much bigger and scarier than smaller, ‘normal’ changes.

Provide opportunities for people to give you feedback. Let them know that you re available to hear their thoughts and concerns. Unpick what you hear and try to get to the root cause of the issue.

Only when you know what is bothering them can you do something about it.

4. Plan For Longer Than You Think

I’m sure your execs would love their strategic projects implemented in double-quick time. We’d all be happy if our projects could hit their deadlines or come in early. But there’s no point in rushing it when behaviour is at the root of the change. Behaviour and cultural changes take time. You can put in place the environment for them to be a success and for those changes to be embedded as quickly as possible. However, you can’t mandate that your office is going to be a fun place to work after years of not having a social committee and never going out for drinks. There’s a whole lot of leading by example and subtle changes that happen before you get where you want to be.

Schedule in enough time for this, and for people who are affected by the changes to reflect on what it means for them, to raise their concerns and work together to find solutions.

5. Keep Talking

Resistance to change means you should have to communicate more, not less. Keep sharing your project’s vision. Keep talking to the leaders who have influence over the others. Keep doing stakeholder engagement.

And talk upwards to the managers who have set the direction for the strategic project. Let them know what is happening on the ground, with the people who are affected by the decisions they have made. They might have ideas for how best to tackle the issues you are seeing. They are definitely able to contribute to the conversation and talk to their colleagues, peers and team members about the rationale behind the project and why it’s a good idea.

As well as continuing the dialogue, make sure you are continuing to listen. People’s opinions change as they find out more about the strategy and what the subsidiary projects mean for them. Keep asking questions, following up, going back to people with answers and challenging thinking.

Further Reading

Transforming Your Project Team from Good to Great

Personnel without project management training are increasingly given pivotal roles in managing projects. Project-based work is changing, and training may be required in order to better execute. [ Download ]

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About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth Harrin
Elizabeth Harrin is a career project and programme manager with over a decade of experience in healthcare and financial services. She's also a content strategist, award-winning blogger and author of several books about project management. Find her online at A Girl's Guide to Project Management

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