A common cause of resistance

Organizations want to adapt to changing circumstances. They think about how they want to do things differently and what need to adjust. For example in behavior and/or in the way in which the work is organized.

On to the future
Most organizations therefore change very consciously. TheIr plans are well thought out. Decision-making is thorough and all stakeholders are consulted. “Clearly, if we keep doing our job the same way, we won’t get better results. So on to the future!”

Motivate
Careful work is also done during implementation. Everything is done to take people along: why is this initiative important? What do we want to achieve with it? What happens if we do nothing? And what does this mean for you and your department? An internal communication campaign often follows. Which explains what needs to be changed and why. This mainly aims to involve and motivate people.

Lack of support
In the blog “Why Change Management Often Fails” we saw that there is often less support than people think: in no less than 70% of the cases, teams do not agree with the goals of their management.

So often there is too much resistance. It turns out to be difficult to resolve such resistance and to take those involved along for the good cause of the change. Even people who agree with the goals turn out to be resistant to get moving. For example, because there is insufficient support for the way in which the change will be implemented. Is that sheer unwillingness or is there something else going on?

Too much future…
Recently I had a conversation with two board members of a medium-sized company. The organization is in the midst of a change process. During the conversation, the persistent resistance in the organization came up, especially among middle managers. The situation turned out to be very similar to what is described above.

We considered the possible causes of this resistance for a while. A lot of time and effort had been invested in creating understanding and involving employees. At one point the CEO sighed: “Maybe the problem is that we talk way too much about that bright future.”

… and too little past
Then the insight fell like a quarter in a jukebox: in another blog we discussed that “recognition of the past” – such as: good and bad events, successes and failures – is a systemic need in all teams and organizations.

The need for recognition
After all, “wanting to be seen”, or “recognition”, is an important social need. People and teams want to “belong”. When they do not experience that, resistance emerges as a symptom of imbalance.

The shoulders of the past
Most changes usually start with a good vision and solid arguments. What often does not receive enough recognition is that the current position of the organization has been built on the (successful) past so far. Without “the shoulders of the past,” there is little to stand on. Recognition and appreciation of the contribution of committed employees are essential for taking the step towards the future.

Motivation and energy
It pays to make sure employees are seen and recognized for their contributions. Once they feel understood and appreciated, an important cause of resistance is removed: they feel that they belong and are relevant for the future. That motivates and gives energy.

There can be other causes of resistance of course. For example, fear of losing a job. Or the concern that people cannot “come along”. It is essential to ensure that people experience that leadership understands and acknowledges their feelings. Until that happens, resistance cannot be resolved. No matter how good the other actions of management are. Then the change is force-fed. Such change is slow, laborious and fatiguing for everyone involved.

Understand the root cause
Resolving resistance is only possible if management understands its root cause. And that is never actually in something rational (the reason for change). It is usually the result of employees who do not feel understood, seen or heard. Whether it is in their value to the organization, their concerns or fears for the future. This can even be traced back to previous changes or reorganizations – and may have little or nothing to do with the situation now.

Understanding the root cause of resistance and tackling it takes time. But that does result in change that people feel motivated to contribute to. Such time therefore is a valuable investment. The return consists of people who are better connected with each other and engaged with their organization. Change is therefore faster and better than a change which is force-fed. Moreover, it is also much more fun.

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