Streetwise: Is Your Company Resisting Change?

April 17, 2021

From our friends at Eure Consulting:

Change is an essential part of the growth of a company. But most people try to avoid change as much as possible. Change is hard. It takes you out of your comfort zone and interrupts your routines. But if a company doesn’t change, it will die. That’s why it’s your job, as the CEO, to make sure that you develop a company culture that is open to change.

You have to be intentional about the changes you make as a company. Make sure that you’re making the right decisions at the right time. Once you’ve decided to change, take the time to explain what is changing and why. If you want your company to continue to grow, you have to be open and transparent about the changes your company is making. As well as the decision process you used to get there.

When you try to force change on your company without clearly communicating the thinking behind those changes, the how, and the when of the change, you will be met with more resistance. Employees will dig their heels in and avoid the change. But it is possible to overcome that resistance to change.

Overcoming resistance starts with understanding that employees who are resisting change are really resisting the unknown. People fear the unknown because it messes with their equilibrium. Taking the time to explain your decisions and the thinking that went into them will help remove this fear. Once employees know where you want to take the company, why, and what benefits the change will bring, they’ll lower their resistance and become productive members of the team again.

One way to lower your employee’s resistance is to give them the opportunity to ask questions.

But it isn’t quite as simple as just asking for questions. You have to create a culture where the tough questions get asked. One where open and honest feedback is accepted, even expected. Otherwise, your employees won’t be comfortable speaking up. Companies that build a culture of feedback are less likely to get resistance to change.

Leaders often get swept up in their own ideas and visions and don’t pay enough attention to the effects those grand ideas will have on the day-to-day operations of the company. They miss the potential constraints or obstacles that stand in the way of successfully changing. But if everyone at the company knows that it is safe to bring up potential issues or oversights, the change is more likely to succeed.

Creating a safe place for providing feedback starts at the top. You as the CEO have to be open to hearing and receiving feedback and/or questions about your approach. Receiving constructive feedback is not a natural skill for most entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs tend to be hard-working perfectionists who give their work 110% every day. Hearing criticism of that effort can hurt. But no one is perfect. Including you. And the sooner you accept that the sooner you can start getting better.

Feedback is a gift and if you’re not open to hearing it, you’ll hold your company back by stagnating as a leader. You won’t know what you’re doing that is detrimental to growth and you won’t know how to fix it.  You have to be open to learning about the ways in which you can improve and get better. Don’t let your ego stand in the way of your success.

If you and your leaders are open to hearing honest feedback, your company will be unstoppable.

Not only will you and your team be learning how you can continue to improve, but you’ll also give your employees permission to figure out ways to improve the company overall. Not only will they not resist change, they may even start bringing changes to you.

Open and honest feedback serves to make the entire company better. It lets everyone know that there is nothing so sacred that it is exempt from improvement. Sure, there may be things that you won’t change very often, if ever, but that doesn’t mean you can’t talk about it. Get your employees involved in thinking critically about how to improve every aspect of the company. Let them decide that a system or process is flawed and then determine how to best fix it.

A culture of feedback helps your employees engage in and get excited about change because they are the ones who are driving the change. They’ve become part of your company’s continued improvement.

You have to actually act on the feedback you get though.

In order to create a permanent and lasting culture of feedback, you actually have to do something with the feedback you receive. If your employees are offering you suggestions of where to improve, but they never see a change, they’ll stop giving you feedback.

You may not always be able to make the change that they suggest or change a certain behavior and that’s okay. The important part is to thank them for their feedback, let them know how you researched or contemplated their idea, and what the outcome was. Good, bad, or indifferent. You don’t need to simply jump whenever an employee says to. Instead, you need to determine if jumping is the right thing to do, right now, for the good of the company. And then explaining why it is or why it isn’t.

Err on the side of over-sharing.

When sharing information about a change, whether it generated by employees or leadership, always repeat yourself. You can’t assume that people heard or understood you the first time around. Maybe they weren’t paying attention, or maybe they didn’t think the change affected them. Either way, you need to share the message over and over. Create a quarterly (at least) company-wide meeting where you can address the company. You’ll then have a regular forum to share updates, receive feedback, and answer any questions about the changes that are happening.

This is even more important as the economy starts coming out of COVID.

Use these meetings to get everyone on the same page about where you’re heading and why. And get their buy-in to be part of the solution. Ask for their suggestions and input and get their feedback about your current plan of attack. Be open and transparent. Don’t try to hide any issues that arise, instead ask your employees for their help in solving them.

Making employees a part of the initiation and planning stages for change will not only stop them from resisting change, but it’ll also help them become champions of it.