5 Reasons People Resist Change

Photo: aluxum

I used to believe that there were two kinds of people:

  1. People who thrive on change; and
  2. People who avoid change.

The former are inspired by freshness, embrace novel experiences, and jump at opportunities to instigate innovations. The latter seek stability, enter new situations cautiously, and place roadblocks before the slightest mention of anything different.

Now I realize that there is a third category: people who want change at a conceptual level but are not willing to do anything risky in order to achieve it.

They are intellectually curious and enjoy newness yet hinder initiatives with their indecision and procrastination. Repeatedly (and predictably), they reject new ideas just as relentlessly as they express concern that too much has stayed the same.

In short, Types 2 and 3 resist change. They avoid, dismiss, and sabotage those who want to move forward in any area including:

  • Pursuit of a new customer segment;
  • Deployment of a new technology or work process;
  • Launch of a new product;
  • Introduction of new techniques for sales, marketing, and customer service.

Understanding why they avoid newness is a key step in overcoming resistance. Addressing these specific concerns can help build a team that will evaluate new opportunities based on merit and not fear.

1. She believes that her productivity will plummet and stress will skyrocket.

After years of mastering her job duties, she has developed an efficient routine. When employees bring problems to her attention, she provides direction by following a self-developed, mental image of a decision tree with a limited number of variables. The simplicity of day-to-day tasks and the knowledge that she can easily complete assignments on time, on budget, on spec are comforting.

Changes will bring complexity to her job. Decisions will require developing new road maps. The mental heavy lifting that she anticipates will be exhausting. This extra time and effort will certainly detract from her productivity, output, and peace of mind.

Fix: Establish a new performance metric when changes are introduced. If possible, move away from activity-based measures to assessments of creative output and profitable results. Plus, give her enough time to assimilate new ways of doing her job and plenty of space to solve problems that require intense concentration.

2. He thinks that embracing change means admitting past mistakes.

He believes that championing new work processes or pursuing new customer segments, for example, are equivalent to publicly acknowledging that previous procedures caused errors or marketing programs didn’t deliver the right kinds of customers.

Fix: Reassure him that changes being proposed reflect technological advances, emergence of new segments, or other recent happenings that have impacted the business. Emphasize the need for continual renewal, not as an indictment of the past, but as a strategy for ongoing success.

3. She is unable to learn from her failures.

She is not afraid of failure per se, and accepts that changes may not bring immediate results. What she fears is her inability to understand what factors influence success. Navigating change is like falling into an abyss rather than interpreting clues on a hidden-treasure map.

For example, she might express concerns about updating the features of a previous best-selling style. Her hesitation to introduce modifications has nothing to do with her perceived inconsistency between product characteristics and customer desires. Instead, her resistance masks her lack of analytical and problem solving skills. In the past, she has blamed failures on economic conditions, poor timing, and misunderstanding on the part of customers. Unable to pinpoint (or at least guess) the reasons for certain outcomes and then make adjustments that improve results, she avoids change altogether.

Fix: Teach her how to learn from her mistakes, whether they lead to full-flung failures or lower-than-expected performance. Encourage her to articulate assumptions and predict likely outcomes of proposed changes; then show her how to evaluate results in light of the accuracy of these assumptions. By giving her the skills to learn from potentially risky moves, she should feel more comfortable with change and confident about her ability to correct missteps and keep moving forward.

4. He is unsure of his ability to handle problems that may arise as a consequence of change.

He is eager to positively impact the company but is reluctant to implement new ideas. The side effects of change may involve handling situations that he does not fully understand and dealing with consequences that he cannot predict or control.

For example, he believes that claiming the company’s online listing could be beneficial to marketing efforts. But the prospect of having to interact with customers who rate the business is unfamiliar to him. So he downplays the benefits in order to dodge possible headaches in the future and avoid revealing lack of competency in this area.

Fix: Identify known negatives that will likely surface as byproducts of changes. Investigate, identify, and implement best practices for dealing with these situations. Acknowledge that unpredictable things may happen, ask him to alert you to these instances as soon as they occur, and assure him that you will handle problems quickly.

5. She wants to preserve her status among colleagues and employees.

She enjoys her title, position description, and place in the organizational chart. The existing hierarchy allows her to get things done. Her colleagues and employees respect her, and she does not want to jeopardize these relationships for shaky ones with another group. She especially wants to avoid scenarios that put her in conflict with long-time associates.

Fix: Tell her the truth that her current job and existing relationships are increasingly becoming irrelevant as the competitive landscape changes, key customers merge or go out of business, etc. The new organization will challenge her alliances but also position her and the business more favorably in the long term. At the same time, uncover and address any areas of conflict among work groups, and coach her on methods of interacting with different personalities.

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