Resistance to Change – Anticipate and Adjust

Over the past few weeks, we have looked at a number of potentially disruptive technologies.  This week we turn our focus on how to handle the inevitable resistance to implementing them.

You have all heard some drivers mention these words: “the day I need to use an ELD/EOBR/automatic transmission/etc., is the day I quit”.  Any new technology will bring on a response like this in some people.  Others will embrace the change from day one and others will look like they are ambivalent to the change.  Regardless of how they appear, each employee or owner operator will have some sort of reaction, and that reaction needs to be managed.  Keep this in mind as even a person that is normally the most supportive, may show resistance when the project is first introduced to them.

Most forms of resistance should be anticipated beforehand, so taking some time to develop a plan to address resistance points will go a long way to easing your implementation.

Typical Reasons for Resistance to Change

  • Not understanding the reason for the change (or if that reason is unclear). This will likely affect your longer term employees, as they have a lot of buy-in with the current way things are done.  This resistance will be amplified if this is a well established process that “has worked for the last XX years”.
  • Fear of the unknown. People need to feel that the risks of standing still are greater than making a change.  They understand how things work now, and have to believe that the new way is better.
  • Lack of Competence. Some people will not believe that they have the skills to be able to transition to the new way of doing things.  However this is something that may be hard to get people to admit to, so managers need to be aware of it and explain which training methods will be offered to help people adjust.
  • Connected to the Old Way. Some employees will have an emotional attachment to the ways things are currently being done, regardless of how logical the need for a change may be.  Keep in mind that you will be changing social patterns that may seem trivial to you, but could be extremely valuable to an employee.
  • Low Trust. There will be (hopefully) a small subsection of people that do not believe that they, nor the company can competently manage the change.  Even if this group is small they are likely to be vocal so make certain that you are prepared to handle their concerns.  If this can be done before the change you may be able to turn a detractor into a promoter!
  • Temporary Fad. Do your employees feel that management is just following the advice of the latest consultant?  Do you change, and then change again without allowing time for the system to normalize?  Any of these may cause employees to feel that you are just chasing the latest fad, and that if they just hold out, then they will not have to make the change.
  • Not being Consulted. Most people will lower their resistance to change if they feel that they are allowed to be part of the change.  This is a bit of a tricky situation however.  If you are going to be consulting your employees about the change, be prepared to make adjustments.  Just letting people have a venting session, without any of those opinions making a difference, could result in a higher level of resistance.
  • Poor Communication. This one is probably the most common.  With any change, the proper amount of communication is almost always more than you did.  Give them constant updates, progress reports, and upcoming events.  This will engage many of your employees and will go a long way towards helping them feel involved in the process. Going the extra mile on communication, will deliver large rewards.
  • Changes to Routines. You are really asking people to get out of their comfort zones, and that will cause a degree of insecurity.   Making people do something different will make them uncomfortable at first, so using the above point and ensuring that the lines of communication are open will help reduce this.
  • Exhaustion/Saturation. Compliance should not always be considered acceptance. People who are overwhelmed by constant change sometimes resign themselves to it, and just go along for the ride.  This results in a demotivated workforce (you only have their bodies, but not their hearts).  Give them time to adjust to the new normal before you adjust things again.
  • Change in the Status Quo. How people perceive the change can affect how they react to it.  Examples that can have a negative impact include people who feel that they will be worse off after the change and situations where one part of the organization feels that another part has “won”.  Make sure to consider how other departments may perceive your motivations.  What may seem to the accounting department as a simple, may cause your customer service department to be resentful if they do not see any benefit to them.
  • Benefits and Rewards. As seen above, resistance will be increased when the rewards and benefits for making the change are not seen to outweigh the trouble involved.
  • Plain Old Fear of Losing Their Jobs. They have seen other changes and the purges that followed them.  It may not have been with your organization, but there will always be someone that “knows someone” who claims to have lost their job due to changes/automation/new technology etc.  Even if the fear is irrational to you, it’s real to them, so be as supportive as you can through the process.  If there are job losses, make sure to handle them as humanely as possible or they will reinforce a perception of change = redundancies and create an even higher level of resistance to your next change initiative.

The above is not an inclusive list, and maybe not all of them will apply to your company.  However you need to do an honest and thorough analysis to anticipate any resistance before it happens so that you can develop an action plan that has all managers on the same page.