The 2018 Prosci® best practice in change management report found Resistance is a top obstacle to successful change. Participants reported that it costs the project and organisation in the form of project delays and the need to re-train, re-design, and re-scope the change. Left unchecked, resistance results in productivity losses, turnover of key talent, absenteeism, and eventually customers and external stakeholders feel the impact.

We have seen the impact of enduring resistance in instances of go-slows or strikes that cost the organisation financially and cause reputational damage that hurts the employee brand proposition that has been built and protected by the HR team over time.

Last week we dispelled some myths about resistance and highlighted the reaction to change as normal. This response is psychological and physiological that change leaders should expect and not surprised when it rises.

Also Read: Understanding Resistance To Change

Resistance takes various shapes and forms including passive-aggressive behaviour, complaining, murmuring among others that are simply symptoms of the resistance, and not the root cause. Resistance is addressed by looking beyond the symptoms to identify the real cause. Factors that come into play during resistance are based on the extent of the impact on an individual’s aspirations, career plans, and personal values. Another key factor that impacts reception hence must not be ignored, is the organisation’s history of managing change. If the track record is negative, a new change may be received with scepticism and negativity. Therefore, change practitioners and leaders must understand the context the change is received in as resistance does not occur in isolation.

From a psychological perspective, we understand that resistance is a normal response to a change. The Prosci® best practice studies in change management research, found that lack of awareness of the change is a top reason for resistance. We can deduce that individuals, teams, units, departments, and the entire organisation may resist change because they do not understand the ‘Why’ behind the change. Before we communicate what is changing, the organisation needs to internalise ‘Why’  the change is being implemented; ‘ Why’ it is being implemented now and what are the risks of not changing. This leads to the question ‘Who’ communicates about change? The critical role of communication is resident in the people managers.

Also Read: Where Should Change Management Sit in the Organisation?

Participants in the Prosci® research echo that employees prefer to hear the big picture on the change from a leader or executive. The messages would typically address how the change is connected to the organisation’s strategy, the benefits of change, and the vision of change for the organisation. The research also revealed that employees want the change information from their line manager distilled with a key focus on ‘how it impacts me, what the change means for my job and how the change benefits me’. Line Managers are trusted by their teams, and closest to where the change is happening. They also understand their team’s concerns, issues, and cares thus are best placed to work with the project and change implementation teams on the design and delivery of the change.

Well-equipped line managers closest to the change are best placed to identify and avert resistance as well as remove barriers to the change within their teams. They provide critical insight into what is working and what is not working with the implementing teams and senior managers. They are critical advocates for change and build enthusiasm and the desire for change. Employees follow their line manager’s cues so if the manager is not on-board with the change, teams are unlikely to follow.

Also Read: 5 Key Competencies Of An Effective Change Manager

To understand the root cause of the resistance, implementing teams can work closely with line managers who clearly understand why there is resistance and work together to find solutions.

Prosci® research reveals that many managers feel they do not have the needed skills to manage resistance and coach their teams through the change.  In our work, we have found some managers absolving themselves from the responsibility of managing change citing it is not their responsibility. This often stems from a lack of confidence in their capacity to address challenging issues around change or hold difficult conversations. The manager’s role in supporting change implementation remains critical to successful change, the need to develop their capability and confidence in this area.

Written By Nyawera Kibuka

Nyawera currently provides strategic leadership of Cedar Africa’s offerings and ensures quality service delivery. She is passionate about coaching and training individuals and organisations towards positive change. Successful transformation in every engagement is one of her greatest rewards.

Cedar Africa Group is Prosci® primary partner in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda