Can Effective Employee Communication Eliminate Resistance?
Those in the frontline of employee communication should remember that, according to Paul Gibbons, author of the Science of Organizational Change, “People who appear to be resisting change may simply be the victim of bad habits. Habit, like gravity, never takes a day off.”
Most change management initiatives are dealing with just that, old habits that need to go. New habits need to be formed. It’s easy to say, but for many organizations managing change is much harder to do.
Even with the best internal communications plan in place, resistance from some stakeholders is inevitable. Expect and plan for it—even when the change is recognized as an improvement. Comfort with the familiar is extremely powerful, and it’s difficult for people to embrace uncertainty.
As a psychologist specializing in workplace behaviours, I advise companies to be proactive and specific about where the resistance is most likely to come from.
Typical sources of resistance:
- People with a vested interest in keeping the current systems and processes in place
- People who created the current way of working
- Employees worried about more work following the change
- People who advocated for an alternative
To some extent, these sources of resistance can be countered by framing the change using FAQs, town hall meetings, and other collateral. Despite these efforts, it’s likely that there will be some employees will still resist.
Classic symptoms of resistance include:
- not providing information or other resources, and
- skipping important meetings.
To effectively manage resistance to change, it’s important to consider the root causes of the resistance (in addition to the symptoms) and try to address those using internal communications.
Constantly remind workers of the managements’ commitments and give concrete examples of how support is being provided. Be truthful, even if the news is not great.
|Root Causes of Resistance to Change||Internal Communications Practices|
|A lack of awareness of the rationale for the change||Get out well ahead of change with town hall meetings, executive memos, and cascade briefings to create awareness and context.|
|Real or perceived negative impact on their current job/role.
A fear of loss, which could include job loss, diminished status, and/or important relationships.
|Provide frontline managers with training and specific information to discuss changes with workers one on one or in small groups.|
|Unpleasant past experience with organizational change||Hold ‘focus group’ style discussions with groups to gain feedback and perspective of past experiences and use these insights to inform change and communications planning.|
|Insufficient visible support and commitment from supervisors, managers, and/or executives||Don’t fear ‘over-communicating’ during periods of change.|
|Distrust of the people leading the change||Make and keep a commitment to workers to be transparent and be authentic in all communication.|
It’s difficult to recover from mistakes and setbacks so a well-planned change management process gets things right the first time. In addition to effective, employee communication that spells out what’s in it for the stakeholders, it’s also advantageous to enlist the visible support of change ambassadors.
As a Thornley Fallis Communications associate, Dr. Ofosu brings her skills and experience as an industrial psychologist to internal communications and employee engagement projects.
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