Change is increasingly necessary as organizations must adapt to new market forces, globalization, and new processes, including those stemming from the digital, robotics, and artificial intelligence worlds. "Change management" refers to the overseeing of the transition from a company’s current organization and processes to the desired ones.

While change is all around us, the majority of change efforts — from 50% to 75% — fail. As a recent Harvard Business Review points out, the causes of failure are: not identifying which changes need to be made, or what objectives need to be met to get there. Those are relatively easy to fix. The bigger issue is often the people involved, who can either actively or passively resist the change.

Why Employees Resist

The authors observe three primary reasons employees resist change. They are:

  1. Substantive concerns. This camp genuinely feels that the change is not in the company’s best interests, or in the best interests of their job, perhaps. They may feel that differing perspectives have not been adequately reflected in the discussions surrounding the change, or that the change is really the wrong way to go.
  2. Respect concerns. Any change affects different people differently simply because, often, it may affect either their personal status in the ecosystem of a company, or the status of their jobs. The net result is that change can trigger concerns about respect, vis-à-vis co-workers.
  3. Time concerns. This concern, which the HBR authors term “feeling rushed,” is a relatively simple response of stress, or of not being able to master the change or its components in the time given.

How to Counter Resistance

HBR also recommends certain steps to counter change resistance.

The first is to realize that you have to communicate to change resistors in unhurried, one-on-one meetings. It cannot be left to e-mails or large meetings. The lack of open discussion in these forms of communication does not promote buy-in to change and may feed the feeling that the change manager doesn’t care about or understand the impact on employees.

The second is to focus on listening carefully during these one-on-ones. Do not speak more than 20% of the time. Listen to concerns and explain the benefits of the change. Foster open dialog and listen deeply to the concerns being expressed.

The third is to be open to change yourself. Be aware that all three of the concerns above can derail a change. Adjustments to the change plan may be needed in order to avert derailment.

  • The "substantive concern" groups may have issues that need to be accommodated. 
  • The "time concern" cohort may, in fact, need more time to adjust, learn, and implement changes. 
  • The "respect" group may require adjustments to have their psychological needs met.

The fourth is to prepare for multiple conversations. A minimum of two will be needed, and there may well need to be more. Change is not achieved by simply promulgating and following up. It needs sustaining dialogue.

Although the need for change is frequent, its implementation often fails because of resistance by employees. These identification and management steps increase the chances of success.