Tap Into the Positive Side of Change Resistance

Start by understanding and overcoming your own resistance to change.

Change initiatives often fail for no clear reason. CIOs can’t afford for this to happen. IT brings many changes to an organization: When it’s introduced, as it evolves, and even when it gets replaced or decommissioned.

To reap the benefits of IT, an organization needs to adjust its operational parameters: processes, information flow and control mechanisms. All these changes directly, and indirectly, impact the way people work. Trying to change the way people work can be difficult. In fact, resistance to change is often given as a major cause of the failure rate of organizational change initiatives.

“It’s natural to conclude that people simply don’t like to change, and that’s the reason they resist it”

“It’s natural to conclude that people simply don’t like to change, and that’s the reason they resist it,” says Bard Papegaaij, research director at Gartner. “Unfortunately things aren’t that simple.”

Resistance to change is often based on emotional tension between conflicting commitments and beliefs — not on rational arguments.

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“If you want to be a leader in and out of your organization, then you have to address the change resistance working against the success of the IT you are responsible for,” says Papegaaij.

Here are some tips to guide you:

Understand the sources of resistance

When presented with arguments in favor of a change program, most people will see the need for change. However, there’s a discrepancy between what people say and believe they agree with on a rational and intellectual level, and what they feel and believe at a deeper, emotional level. These subconscious motivators act as a counterforce that prevents them from actually contributing to the change, or that even compels them to sabotage it.

Monitor your environment for the languages of internal conflict

When most people feel discomfort, anxiety or fear, instead of examining and addressing the source of the contradictions, most people externalize the tension between their conscious and subconscious drivers by finding flaws, faults and obstacles in their environment.

Practice using positive, explorative languages

Systematically helping people change the language they use to speak about things that concern, frighten or frustrate them can turn those emotional obstacles into much more positive energy. People use these negative languages because they care. By harnessing that care in positive, constructive conversations, that same energy can be used as a force for change.

Help people overcome their own resistance

Make sure to listen to the negative languages you hear around you and engage with them to explore the concerns, fears, and assumptions that lie underneath. Addressing those concerns instead of attacking the surface-level grievances can help you leverage people’s internal commitments and beliefs to make them change agents, rather than change obstacles.

“Before you try to tackle the change resistance working against the success of your IT organisation, start by monitoring your own resistance — for instance, by listening to the kind of language you are using,” Papegaaij says. “Embody the changes you aim for to be able to inspire and lead your people.”

Further information is available to Gartner clients in: “Languages of Change: How to Tap Into the Positive Side of Change Resistance” by Brad Papegaaij.

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