Change results in various reactions. For some, change can cause fear, doubt, anxiety, insecurity or perhaps ambivalence. For others, change means excitement, anticipating opportunities and looking forward to a new future. Depending on their reaction, employees can help or hinder the adoption of change.

Change Reactions

There are several psychological theories about the way we work. However, many of them do not take into account our individual differences. Personalities vary widely and can strongly influence our attitudes, as well as how we react to change. There are four common, yet distinct, behavioral reactions to change:

  • Drivers of change tend to be direct, demonstrate a results-oriented approach, embrace quick decisions and changes, and are usually the ones who initiate the change by challenging the status quo.
  • Influencers of change are optimistic and enthusiastic and try to keep everyone motivated during times of flux by using their creativity and networks to develop innovative solutions to handling change.
  • Resisters of change are steady decision-makers who do not like to be rushed and need time to prepare. They may appear to “put up” with change, since it may be difficult to determine how deeply they are impacted by the changes until much later.
  • People who are concerned with the effects of change are the cautious, careful and objective thinkers who seek to maintain high standards regardless of the changes going on around them.

Recognizing Resistance

If you have identified yourself or your employees as resisters of change, don’t worry. You have lots of company. Even those who embrace and thrive on change, and those who usually aren’t bothered by it, can suffer initial resistance. The key is becoming mindful of your reactions. First, recognize and acknowledge your resistance. Are you simply resisting change because it is your nature to do so, or is there a valid reason?

Gaining Commitment to Change

It is difficult to go along with a change initiative, much less lead it, if the goals of the initiative are not in alignment with someone’s fundamental beliefs and values. According to BlessingWhite’s 2010 article on “the three c’s of change, “when organizational values and individual values are both clear and congruent, individual commitment to the goals of the organization are significantly higher.” To reduce resistance, here are five ways you can gain commitment to change from employees:

1. Give people information.

To build trust and confidence, be as open and honest about the facts as you can without overly optimistic speculation. Explain the reasons for the change and its tangible benefits. While departmental, organizational and community benefits are important to express, people tend to be more concerned about how the change will impact their role directly.

2. Speak to participants directly.

Don’t let the rumor mill take over. If possible, tell everyone at the same time, and then follow up with smaller group sessions or individual interviews to identify personal values and decide how to deal with specific reactions to change. You may need to adapt your communication approach to address the needs of different personalities.

3. Acknowledge losses.

When change is involved, there is usually a loss. Some people may lose access to a system, autonomy, status or resources. These losses can be severe and impede an individual’s ability to perform. It is important to identify what will remain the same and what might replace that loss. It’s easier to cope with a loss if there is something to replace it. Demonstrating empathy will also show staff that you care about and support them, helping to alleviate fears.

4. Give people time.

When change is too much and too fast, people feel overwhelmed and experience change fatigue. Wherever possible, give individuals an opportunity to express their concerns and share their views. Show support by providing coaching, counseling or information to help employees through the change curve.

5. Evaluate systems, structures and culture.

People will revert to old habits if there are no consequences. Work with human resources and other related departments to evaluate systems and structures and align the organizational culture to ensure that the desired behavior change will be sustained.

Regardless of the type, magnitude, speed or benefits of the change, without a formal approach to change management that addresses individual reactions, the initiative will likely fail. Your role as a learning professional is to share the vision of the change, what is changing and what is not, why change is urgent, and why employees should accept it. Equally important is demonstrating that you believe in the change. The sooner you can align your support with the change, the easier it will be for you to commit and help others commit.

Siobhan Brown, MA, CMP, PMP, CTDP, is a certified change management practitioner and a program director at TidalShift.

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