Employee engagement: Resistance to change

You’ll know that the pressure on businesses to increase profitability and productivity, to reduce costs, to be more competitive, sustainable and diverse are huge – even before Covid-19.

Added to this is the speed of technological change that’s forced us all to rethink what we do, how we do it. And, in our case, how we communicate.

Overlay this with a workforce that’s asking more of its employers – better work life balance, increased flexibility, more recognition, value-driven credibility and it’s clear to see that change is here to stay, whether we like it or not.

For a business to survive and thrive, you know how essential it is to maintain a committed, motivated, and engaged workforce. One that’s happy working together, that’s effective and that’s pulling together to achieve a set of clear and common goals.

When it comes to engagement, employees can often feel like they’re just a number, especially in organisations where there are thousands of people. 

Successful employee engagement is people feeling like they matter, feeling like they’ve got a contribution to make, and feeling that they’re a part of what’s going on.

Keith Noble, Director, Forepoint

Overcoming the fear of change

When it comes to delivering culture change and transformation in any business, our experience has shown us that there can be a distinct lack of buy-in from people at all levels. And this lack of engagement can cause frustration for all involved.

To overcome resistance to change, it can help to identify your key opponents and blockers – and talk to them. Engaging them in your thinking and getting them on side means they can help you and become your supporters and advocates.

Graham Bowes, Director, Forepoint

Nurturing engagement with your employees

So, where to begin? For many of the people we’ve worked with, we’ve seen that the work starts much earlier than you might imagine. Some of the most successful campaigns we’ve been involved with have begun with the process of listening, then hearing, but most of all believing what’s been said.

We’ve found that, time and time again, the results of conversations with staff – often through us as an impartial third party – have led to long-held assumptions within the business being challenged.

And that’s always a great place to start, with the truth.

Clearly, there are additional advantages for involving people from the start. Being involved makes people feel valued and lets them know that both they and their views are important. It’s crucial that employees see that their views are then reflected in any subsequent comms campaign that’s developed. Fail to demonstrate this and the subsequent potential engagement starts to fall away.

Learn to listen

For all us specialist comms professionals responsible for delivering successful campaigns, it’s vital that we’re able to tap into the mood across different parts of the business – from the shop floor to the boardroom. In this way, we can be reassured that we’re really in touch with what’s going on for them; where their resistance lies and why. Once we have this information, we can look at what we can do and how we can overcome it.

Why do people resist change? There are a number of reasons:

Change interferes with autonomy and can make people feel that they’ve lost control over their territory. It’s not just political, as in who has the power. Our sense of self-determination is often the first thing to go when faced with a potential change coming from someone else.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Ten Reasons People Resist Change, Harvard Business Review

Why you can’t afford not to listen

Good listening across the business takes time. And we totally get it, you’re under a lot of pressure – to get a lot done and to get it done fast.

But nowhere is the adage ‘you only get one chance to make a first impression’ truer than in internal comms. You’ll know, that if your content or messaging is off from the start, then you’ve blown it. Not only will you be unsuccessful in getting everyone on board, but any further attempts to do so will be met with cynicism and you’ll just be straight back to the start.

Apply what you’ve heard – and learnt

Once there’s the understanding of what’s going on for people and where their fears and frustrations lie, the focus can be on developing and delivering campaigns that connect with them because they:

Smart leaders leave room for those affected by change to make choices. They invite others into the planning, giving them ownership.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Ten Reasons People Resist Change, Harvard Business Review

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