“If it ain't broke, don't fix it.” is often good advice. On the other hand, change is often necessary, whether to adapt to new technology, new facilities or a different method of doing things. Learning curves are inevitable, but sometimes employees drag their feet. Understanding some of the fears behind employee resistance to change makes it easier to overcoming it without resorting to strong-arm tactics.
Explain the Benefits
In many cases, the source of resistance to change is a failure to recognize the benefits of adopting new equipment, techniques or policies. This is especially true when everything seems to be running smoothly. On the other hand, employees may fear that the real motivation behind obtaining new equipment or adopting new techniques is to eliminate their jobs.
Explaining how changes will benefit the company, and more importantly, your workers, can go a long way in convincing workers to go along. Ensure anxious workers that the company is not anticipating a significant reduction in staff (if it isn’t) and emphasize that the new equipment or technique will enable them to perform their jobs better rather than replace them. Be specific in your explanations: it’s not enough to say that X piece of equipment will speed up the installation process. Explain how and why X piece of equipment will make the installation process faster and more efficient than the equipment now being used.
Cultivate Early Adopters
There are always at least a few people who “get” the new method or equipment right away and are enthusiastic about making the switch. Cultivate these early adopters to help get everyone else on board. Encourage them to share their understanding of the changes underway with their colleagues. If Jane really likes using X or doing things X way, her friend Johan may be more willing to give it a try as well.
Implement Both Group and Individualized Training
Especially where new technology is concerned, the proper training can make the difference between general acceptance and adoption and widespread resistance and outright refusal to get on board. Schedule company-wide training sessions to ensure that everyone knows how to operate new equipment properly or understands the correct sequence of steps in a new procedure.
At the same time, recognizing that different people respond to different learning methods is essential. Make individualized mentoring, perhaps by early adopters within the company, available to employees who seem to be struggling, without shaming them. Create an atmosphere where honest effort is not only OK, but encouraged and praised.
Incorporate Changes into Overall Routine
While it’s important to allow your staff sufficient time to adapt to new equipment or techniques, at some point, it’s necessary to incorporate changes into the overall routine. Otherwise, you run the risk of dragging down the entire company, including staff members who have made the transition.
Gradually remove old equipment and replace it with new equipment, and announce a date when the last piece of old equipment will be removed. Set a deadline for implementing a new technique company wide. This will convey the message to staff members who are willingly dragging their feet that they need to get on board, while allowing those who are genuinely struggling as much time as possible to catch up.
Reserve Penalties as a Last-Resort
It’s nearly always preferable to use a carrot rather than a stick to convince rather than force people into accepting change. However, in extreme cases, imposing penalties may be necessary to force reluctant employees into getting on board with change. The nature and extent of the penalty should relate to the level of noncompliance.
Depending on the type of penalty involved, it may be compel to obtain the advice of an attorney specializing in employment related matters to avoid the risk of running afoul of state or federal regulations. This is especially true if you intend to dismiss one or more employees for failing to adopt new procedures or learn how to operate new equipment.
The Bottom Line
At some point, nearly every organization is faced with the need for change, whether to stay in pace with the competition, or for survival. Resistance to change is almost always par for the course. Recognizing the fear that drives a significant amount of resistance, and dealing with that fear constructively can make the transition as painless as possible.