How Leaders Can Cope With Resistance to Organizational Change

April 25, 2012 by  Filed under: Management 

One of the biggest challenges facing anyone in a leadership position is learning to cope with employee resistance to organizational change. When a company or other organization decides to make a shift in the way in which it operates, many employees often struggle with the changes. To alter any organization’s trajectory with a minimum of conflict, good leaders have to know how to cope with this resistance.

The most important thing for a leader to do is to recognize that not every failure to comply with changes is caused by an attitude of defiance. Often times, leaders make the critical mistake of assuming that anyone who doesn’t immediately fall into line with a new program must be actively trying to sabotage the changes. Though there are some rare instances in which that may happen, most resistance is of another nature.

For example, some employees simply fail to understand why the changes are occurring or what they are designed to accomplish. Others may subconsciously resist the new direction because of concerns for customers. Still others actually perceive the changes as an indication that they were not performing up to standards under the old system. Leaders have to know how to address each of these concerns.

The first is fairly simple to address, since it involves a lack of communication between the leader and those who follow him. When employees simply fail to understand why changes are occurring or how they are supposed to work, leaders can resolve the problem by providing additional education on the matter. In most cases, initial concerns fade as employees understand how the new system benefits everyone involved.

Employees who fail to grasp the benefits any changes may provide for customers can be slightly more difficult to manage. After all, these workers are so committed to ensuring customer satisfaction that they need to be firmly convinced that the company’s customer base will be positively impacted before they will mentally buy into any new organizational direction. Again, education is the key to resolving this issue.

When employees feel slighted by the imposition of new changes, however, leaders must work to dissuade them from that view. Good leaders must reassure their people that the changes are not a reflection of their poor performance, but are instead being implemented to make everyone’s lives easier and more productive.

The key to avoiding these situations is found in a leader’s ability to demonstrate to each member of his team exactly how the proposed changes can positively impact every part of the organization. To accomplish this, leaders should begin the communication process as soon as any changes are first being considered. This can help to accomplish the organization-wide buy-in every company needs.

To achieve full buy-in at every level of the organization, communication must be ongoing. Different employees will require different levels of explanation, so leaders should always be prepared to provide individual attention when necessary. In the end, the only way to overcome resistance to organizational change is to ensure that every member of an organization understands the positive benefits of the change and how to properly implement it.

About the Author

Dr. Doreen McGunagle is fiercely committed to guiding corporate and non-profit leaders who are serious about making corporate culture shifts to boost profits, performance, and growth as world-class service organizations. For more great information visit

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