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July 02, 2015

Reducing resistance begins with having to, wanting to and being able to

Change can be painful. There has always been resistance to new ways of working, even when it’s clear that there’s a much better new reality at the end of the changeover.

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Software implementations are no different; even when the benefits of a new IWMS system are so clear, there are always employees who are not exactly jumping with joy at the idea of embracing new working methods. One way to ease this is to anticipate the three major sources from which resistance may stem: having to, wanting to and being able to.

What’s the objective?

The first step in any change trajectory is to gain clarity about the intended objective at the earliest possible stage and how this relates to the current situation. Here, you also need to consider the capacities of the staff and management, and the organization’s resources. With these insights, you can assess whether obstacles might arise which you need to remove to reach the ultimate goal.

In broad terms, the causes for these obstacles are related to having to, wanting to and being able to:

  • With having to, the change is being imposed from above, so employees may dig in their heels. The result is that the need for change is not acknowledged.

  • With wanting to, the issue is employees’ intrinsic motivation. Do they really want to change, or are they putting up a barrier so that the message doesn’t get through? This stops the change process from being launched, even when its necessity is absolutely clear.

  • The third cause is that people do indeed want to, and have to, but that they are not able to, because the resources (time, money and manpower) are lacking to implement the necessary changes.

Despite the insights gained and devoting attention to the obstacles, resistance to an implementation may still arise, and therefore also to the method of working it involves. An important component in removing this resistance is communication. Interventions produce a practical resolution here.

An intervention is an activity to get people in motion or onto the same track. The list of intervention possibilities is almost limitless, and might include newsletters, plenary sessions, workshops and one-to-one discussions. It’s also important to determine whether you apply the intervention in the organization across the board, at group level or at an individual level.

There’s no script showing just how and when you should apply various interventions. A building company with a “macho culture” where everything is about doing and where communication is not at the top of the list needs a different approach than an environment where knowledge-workers are involved. So the crux lies in the execution. For example, the way a personal discussion is conducted is actually highly determinant for the success (who conducts it, when, in what tone etc.).

You can apply any number of scientific models to change trajectories, but at the end of the day, communication remains the work of people. Know what goes on in the workplace, understand it and adapt your strategy to it.

Sometimes just a box of chocolates, a bunch of flowers or a card is enough to nudge employees in the right direction.

Geert-Jan Blom
Business Consultant Planon Netherlands