Why change can feel so difficult (and how to make it easier)

Image for Emmeline Woodward By Emmeline Woodward

Some people love change and the variety it brings. But for many, it can feel somewhat uncomfortable, and they resist. When you’re thinking about introducing a new system into your agency, it’s safe to say you can expect some pushback from at least a few of your team members. Here’s how to navigate your way around these challenges and bring everyone on board.

Why do some people dislike change so much?

It’s easy to think it’s through lack of vision or even sheer awkwardness. But there’s a real psychology behind this resistance. Especially if your colleagues think any changes might impact them negatively, for example long-standing team members who may feel their position is better served by the ‘old’ way of doing things. Don’t be tempted to sweep this very real fear under the carpet: you need to take it seriously and take steps to tackle it.

The four reasons behind resistance

According to leadership and change management gurus Kotter & Schlesinger there are four main reasons people resist change:

  1. Self-interest, such as a perceived threat to job security, status or financial position.
  2. Misunderstanding, not understanding why change is needed or how it could benefit.
  3. Low tolerance, preferring things to stay the way they are.
  4. Different assessment of the situation, because they disagree with the need for change or what’s best for your agency.

The change challenge

However, none of these are reasons to stall or debate the new system which you’re confident will bring big benefits to your agency. Rather, your challenge is to address these objections head on, highlighting to your team what’s in it for them, and making sure you offer the right training and support through the transition.

Remember too, you might have been considering a new system for a while, and have likely done plenty of research, weighed up the pros and cons, established the benefits… but for your team, this is something new. Something else they feel they have to factor into their day, and something they might think of as just an inconvenience to their workload.

You need to understand more about how people react and respond to change, and how, with the right support, they ultimately come to adjust, accept and even embrace it.

The easier you can make the transition, the sooner your agency will start to reap the rewards.

Following the Change Curve

The Change Curve (Kübler-Ross) describes the emotions people experience as they adjust to change, loss and/or shock. It was initially created to help people understand the grieving process, but the model is really useful when you’re thinking of introducing your new system.

Here, you can understand more about how people react and respond to change, and how, with the right support, they ultimately come to adjust, accept and even embrace it.

How to introduce change into your agency

There are six established approaches to managing change (Kotter & Schlesinger) and really getting everyone behind what’s to come.

  1. Education and communication

Don’t just land a new system on your team without any prior warning. Explain your reasoning, keep them informed, highlight the benefits. Good communication across your whole organisation means no nasty surprises.

  1. Participation and involvement

Getting everyone involved upfront makes them a part of the process. Ask them what they’d like to see from the new system and involve key members in the selection process.

  1. Facilitation and support

Fear is a very real and very big part of resistance to change. This is where your support comes in. Offering the right training and continuous support eases the transition, removing any mental blocks and alleviating worries.

  1. Negotiation

Some of your team might be worried about losing profile or position due to the new system. Perhaps it will take over some of the manual processes they are currently in charge of, for example. Make sure you incentivise them by explaining how they could move into other areas of responsibility and reassure them this isn’t about replacing them or their skills.

  1. Listening and inclusion

It can be tempting to ignore or override concerns you feel are a barrier. But this won’t win you confidence from your teams. Instead, listen and understand this genuine feedback, and make sure you include these team members throughout the process.

  1. Make the change anyway…

You know that you need a new system, you know what benefits it will bring and you know how it forms part of your wider commercial strategy. You won’t be able to please everyone and nor should you try. There might well come a time when you have to say, “it’s happening”. As behaviour change then becomes necessary, even those with objections may find they agree with the new system as it starts to show successes and benefit their day-to-day.

Change means moving people out of their comfort zones. And as agencies are often very busy places, colleagues don’t always jump for joy at the thought of having something else to juggle. But by understanding and respecting the fear and resistance change can bring, you can put steps in place to manage and overcome this. Making the transition from fear of change to change itself to the ultimate goal… the new normal.

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