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5 Steps to Managing Resistance to Change

Paul Yantus
January 2, 2024
Managing Resistance to Change

Some people keep their jobs in every company because they have unique knowledge that has never been institutionalized. How do you move digital transformation forward when the people with the knowledge you need (let’s call them Specialists) view that knowledge as their job security? This article will help you in managing resistance to change.

Specialists can be a significant obstacle to digital transformation. We see this frequently when companies look to change their UC platform. The change threatens the job security of the people you need to help you through it (UC engineers). How do you get Specialists to drop their defenses and participate?

Specialists Aren’t Your Enemy

First, let’s start with a bit of empathy. Although resistance to change may make them seem like obstacles, Specialists aren’t your enemy. These are the same people who have kept communications working for years. They take on the brunt of troubleshooting networks, pulling cables, and handling provisioning and de-provisioning of users. The moment there is a communications glitch, they are under fire and likely come through the fire repeatedly.

Now you’ve got a plan to turn their world upside down, and they’re resistant. What else would you expect? Their job security is being the person who knows the UC platform that no one else cares to learn. Now you want to replace it. What they see is the end of their job as they know it. Managing resistance to change requires changing this outlook.   

Before you announce to everyone that you will migrate the UC system, take the following steps.

Managing Resistance to Change Step 1: Address why this change is necessary.

The Specialists might not understand why you want to make a change. They likely take pride in their work and question why you would change something that is working.  Worse yet, they may be taking it personally and feel you are persecuting them.

We see many managers attempt to gain the support of Specialists by validating these thoughts. Validation is a slippery slope, leading to painting the company or senior management as villains. Villainizing management creates an us versus them culture that spirals into more problems than it solves. 

You need to help the Specialist understand the business reasons for the change and ensure they know it is not personal.

Managing Resistance to Change Step2: Gain Their Trust

After you’ve shared the business reasons for the change, you need to address what it means to the Specialists. Managing what it means can be particularly challenging when the change eliminates the Specialists’ job. Don’t shy away from this conversation; take it head-on.

People respond better to the truth than lies they can see right through. You’ll gain their trust if you’re honest and let them know their job is being eliminated. You then need to help them understand how to use their participation in this project as an opportunity for career development. We recently published an article on this; you’ll find it here.

Managing Resistance to Change Step 3: Share what you need them to do to assist.

The next step is to articulate what you need from the Specialist. This conversation can be enlightening if you’ve successfully gained their trust. Outline the tasks you need the Specialist to complete. Be as detailed as possible with what you are asking them to do and when you need it done.

Once you’ve shared what you need, listen carefully to what the Specialist needs and sees as challenges. It is crucial to remember this person knows more about what you’re asking to be done than anyone. Please take note of any obstacles and collaborate with the Specialist on how to overcome them. This support will further build trust.

Managing Resistance to Change Step 4: Communicate & Support

While your digital transformation is in process, make a point to communicate frequently with the Specialist. When you connect, get an update on the project, ask about obstacles, and help secure whatever support they need to overcome them. 

Treat the Specialist’s career next step as your responsibility. Help them develop a plan to achieve it. For example, identify the job they want and what they need to do to secure it. If they need to acquire new skills and certifications, send them links to where they can get them. If they need introductions, make them. Ask them about their progress towards these goals each time you connect.

Your job is to communicate, support, and be their advocate at this step. Your support is why they are willing to take the career risk of using their knowledge to help. The energy they put forth to support you will reflect the energy you put into supporting them.

Managing Resistance to Change Step 5: Follow Through

When the employee has delivered their part, don’t abandon them. You may no longer feel you need them, but you can be sure the other people in their position are watching. Continue to show your support by:

  • Proactively endorsing them online
  • Making introductions
  • Providing references

It would be best if you also continued to suggest certifications that help them achieve their goal. Take the time to check in with them.

Writing an endorsement of someone who just helped you through a transformation should not be difficult. Reward the Specialist’s contribution, and you’ll get less resistance from others in the future. Be the manager everyone wants to work for; you’ll get the most out of your people.

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