Nicky Carew reflects on resistance to change and how she says it is an effect of change difficulties rather than a cause. She applies her thinking to the pandemic.

In the autumn of last year I wrote a blog about change entitled Resistance? What Resistance? The gist was that resistance to change was a symptom not a cause.

“… the use of this term (not as the original authors meant it) has become a short cut for poor change related practice… It encourages belief that it is workers who are resistant and that managers need to ensure employees comply with the change. But compliance is not commitment. “

Back then none of us realised how change would become a commitment for us all. In just a few weeks we have adapted to working from home, keeping 2 meters apart, wearing face masks, contributing to meetings on Zoom, managing our teams virtually… and so on.

It has not always been easy. None of us wanted this change, but we understood why and what we had to do. We have been surveying our clients and partners throughout the lockdown and seeing where people feel they are emotionally on the change curve over the past 11 weeks. We have seen some interesting results:

  • We did see throughout time a general move through the curve’s stages towards the new normal.
  • But the journey was often not straightforward. Rather people spiralled through the curve on a kind of 2 steps forward one step back type of journey.
  • Consistently though, the greatest percentage of people though the 11 weeks (50-60%) have been in the Experiment or New Normal stage – that is showing great resilience, little resistance and a passion to make this change work.

If people were innately ‘resistant to change’ as commonly thought we would see a greater percentage of people on the left hand side of the curve. Of course, some have more resilience than others, some people have tougher circumstances to meet the challenge. Some of us had difficult days but we bounced back. Leaders should not assume that is resistance.

The change leaders challenge is to make sure their teams understand what they need to do and why, then support them, emotionally and practically, to achieve this. This has been fairly successful in many organisations we work with during the lockdown. Their teams are now working from home and when they have the equipment to do this and their leaders have been communicating with them, this result has been a high degree of commitment and engagement. What happens when the sense of comraderie in crisis wains? When the necessity for creative working attitudes lessens? Will old habits creep back? Two thirds of employees who are remote working are nervous about returning to the old paradigm of office culture working – what will happen to the change curve and their resilience then?

Resistance is an effect and not a cause and the trigger may be in a failure to gain commitment and engagement. Compliance is not enough. Having to react to the pandemic has highlighted what can be done and that we are all change makers. The new psychological contract will be the change leader investing in helping people to be change makers.

As we come out of the lockdown we need to be thinking about how we use what we have learnt in the new normal.

Contact Nicky at [email protected]

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