The Reasons Why Many Change Programmes Fail

Part 8

Employee Resistance

This month I’m looking at another reason why significant change programmes can fail. “Inappropriate Management of Employee Resistance”.

I’d like to start this item by suggesting that employee resistance is often a myth and is reinforced by some Managers managing everyone the same!

Unfortunately, when employees are concerned and show reluctance to join in with new ways of working and using new methods and processes, managers see this situation “out of proportion”. They often focus on individuals and groups that are the most vocal at expressing their concerns. But these aren’t everyone!

Three Types of People…

  • 1/3 = Positive
  • 1/3 = Reluctant and Cautious
  • 1/3 = Resistant

In an organisation there are people who are very positive about change and these should be seen and recognised by managers. This is often reflected in the things they do outside of work. House renovation, new fashion etc.

There is also another group of people that are slightly more risk averse and are cautious about change, but again these people aren’t resistant.

However, I do understand there are people that will appear to be resistant, but these are a minority. It’s all down to the way these three groups of people are managed.

So, let’s look at the three groups.

These groups are roughly broken into thirds. So, in an organisation of 1000 people you can divide the organisation into roughly 300-330 people are in each of these groups.

The first group, the naturally positive. This group are by nature positive people outside of work, they enjoy change, new challenges and enjoy experimenting and doing things differently. Unfortunately, this resource isn’t tapped into as much as it should be.

The second group are more cautious and are happier standing back when new thinking is put into practice and like to see the reactions and results before committing to “joining in” fully.

The third group are the die-hard questioners of change, usually been in the business for some time, seen many initiatives before and fallen foul of inappropriate involvement in the past. They are usually the very vocal group!

Unfortunately, the third, third often get the most attention from Managers in the business. This is sadly to the detriment of the other “two thirds”.

Every organisation has these three groups, its part of the characteristics of humans in groups. Organisations manage them differently and this shows in results too.

There is a fourth group, but they are not a third. They are Saboteurs, but these are so few and rare and sometimes don’t exist in a business at all. They just live in the third, third and are miss-labelled because some managers are reluctant to manage them well.

How to Manage the Three Types of People…

  • 1/3 = Positive…..let them start!
  • 1/3 = Reluctant and Cautious…let them watch and join in
  • 1/3 = Resistant……listen to them and pass their issues to the first third

Yes, it’s simple really, but you need two important pieces of review infrastructure in the business at the start of a change initiative.

  1. Comprehensive review meetings to look at behaviour as well as results
  2. Balanced 1:1 processes that allow managers to spend time really understanding their people

The programme of improvement should start, and with good reviews it will be managed and steered as it progresses. This allows the first third to show that people are engaged. Plan-Do-Review-Improve.

Once the programme starts and the first third show enthusiasm and this is managed and praised appropriately, the middle third will feel safer and start to join in too.

The third, third may never join in, but as the programme progresses and the  momentum has taken control and the third, third are not listen to so much, they either join in or not. This is no longer critical to the success of the programme.

One very important point; the third, third may have very good reason for feeling resistant. The key here is to ensure, with everyone else, they are listened to and when they make a good point and raise a potential issue, these issues should be considered and possibly past to the first third who might have the know how and energy to find solutions!

If you would like to know more about how NewLeaf International helps organisations with Business Improvement and significant Organisational Development Programmes, please make contact for an informal chat.

Martin Gummery, Managing Director, NewLeaf International Ltd

Tel: 01905 425209