Fighting Transformation - The Psychology of Change

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4 min read

One of the biggest challenges of any business transformation is to convince all stakeholders - from management to interns - that they can profit from the changes. But how do you do it?

Why do people resist change?

Most people enjoy change that they have control over, so a ride on the rollercoaster, a trip around the world or a new haircut is usually not causing any negative emotions. However, at work, most changes are caused by external forces - whether it's a change within the markets, by new competition or disruptive events like Covid or a new data regulation that affects data processes.

Forced change therefore is seen as something negative, even if it has positive outcomes. As George Barnes writes for the Roffey Park Institute:

"this tends to create a lag between the implementation of change and the acceptance of it."

Knowing why people resist change is one of the core elements to create acceptance. Ignorance towards the reasons can cause more friction and even resentment if it is seen as lack of empathy. Just because a CEO - who usually has a lot more control over company changes - doesn't see the disadvantages, doesn't mean that their employees don't see any, either.

In her article for Harvard Business Review, Rosabeth Moss Kanter lists reasons why people often resist change.

Loss of control, especially if changes are being made by someone else.

Uncertainty, how changes will affect one's own (work) life and future. This adds up if the effects of the changes are not being communicated properly (and early on), e.g., what they mean for daily routines, roles, and teams.

Suddenness can increase the negative feelings which happens if, for example, people are not included in discussions and find out about the changes without any "warning".

Self-confidence can be impacted if changes imply that people have made the wrong decisions before. Additionally, if the change means that people's responsibilities also will change, it can create insecurity whether they are up to these new challenges.

Does the workload increase with the changes? In most cases it does at least for the transition phase. Together with the mental workload of learning new things, accepting the new status quo and getting used to new roles and workflows, it can be hard to not feel overwhelmed.

Any change can have "ripple effects", for example an impact on customers due to new internal processes or newly defined roles. Especially if this impacts people who have no direct advantage from the changes - because they are in different teams, they are customers, partners, etc. - they might react negatively.

Some changes mean the end of something. And if that something is dear to people or even means that they will have to change their position, their team or even have to leave the company, it can emotionally affect not just these people but also their close environment (see: ripple effects).

How do you implement change successfully?

There is not one true way to implement changes, given that every company, every team, even every person is different. It's always possible that someone will simply not accept changes, no matter how positive their impact.

But to be aware of the reasons of resistance and to deal with them through change processes and communication (change management), can show that the individual views, the effects, and the hardships of change are acknowledged.

Read, how DIGITALL supported an insurance company in implementing a new campaign management and guiding their change management for high acceptance and fast adoption rates. 

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Early and thorough communication - for everyone

Sudden change can be hard to digest, especially if it is coupled with uncertainty. Knowing that things will be different but not knowing how they will be different can cause worries, rumors and extreme forms of resistance.

A communication strategy as part of the change management that step-by-step guides through the decision, the announcement and the follow-up aspects (onboarding, feedback, questions, roadmap) helps to show that the change has been thought through which increases trust.

For example, a study showed that people react less negatively to train delays if information about delay times, reasons, etc., were given regularly and transparently. Understanding the "why" can make it much easier to accept a decision.

A good onboarding strategy - for everyone

The ripple effect can mean that people suddenly have to work with new technology, processes, even new teams or managers.

It is therefore important to set up a proper onboarding that includes kick-off meetings, mentor programs, trainings, pilots, and workshops, so no one is thrown into the cold water but instead receives a guiding hand through the change.

A breakdown of impact

It's not enough to say what change means for the whole company. A company consists of many different stakeholders and each one of them desperately wants to know what the change means for them specifically.

It is therefore important to break down the impact of change for different stakeholders (partners, investors, customers, employees), different business units, locations, etc. This breakdown needs to be very clear about the positive outcomes and challenges. Transparency is key to create trust and therefore acceptance.

A proper timeline

There are theories that suggest that people in waiting lines are less likely to react negatively if they can see a "countdown", e.g., how long it will take until they will be served.

The uncertainty of changes often includes the question how long it will take until things can go back to a state of normalcy and routine. Giving a roadmap or timeline helps people to "see the light at the end of a tunnel", especially if the transformation does include higher workloads and disruptive changes.

We support you from evaluation, strategic consultation, implementation and training through your digital transformation to create change with a positive impact and high acceptance rate. Contact us today or take a look at our portfolio.

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by Juliane Waack

Juliane Waack is Editor in Chief at DIGITALL and writes about the digital transformation, megatrends and why a healthy culture is essential for a successful business.

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