8 strategies for overcoming resistance to change

As innovators that want to make things happen and are constantly seeking ways to counter resistance to change. It comes with the territory and is the most predictable challenge we will encounter. At this point, the literature around innovation is vast, so we can all agree that there are many common sources of resistance to change inside organizations and from potential customers: inertia, indecision, fear of making mistakes, lack of best practices and lack of care for your product/service.

How do you overcome them?

First, let’s get a couple of things out of the way:

I believe that embracing change comes down to this: Yes!

Basically, how open are you, as an organization or as a person, to trying new things? Many, most everyone will say they are open to trying new things. But context is required because most of the time they are not. It’s all a matter of perception, so what some view as “adventurous” to others it is not.

An understanding of the human psyche is also a plus if you are a change maker, as all resistance comes from other people. But what often looks like a people problem is often a situation problem.

A few years ago I read an HBR post about the various ways to get people to change. There is some solid advice in that post (and here too), I encourage you to read it. Below, I add some of my own short to long term ideas on how to overcome resistance to change:

  • Say Yes and celebrate mistakes. Embracing failure is a part of success, so create a Yes culture where employees are free to try things. If mistakes are made, celebrate them. Making mistakes is not necessary to the creative process. It is the creative process.
  • Ideas from everyone. People, especially managers, are focused on getting the right answer. This attitude eliminates discovery, thus shuts down alternate ideas that could take the business in a new and better direction. It’s not about being right, it’s about getting a better answer.
  • Don’t ask for permission. To counter inertia, don’t ask for permission and just do it. “Don’t say, ‘I don’t know.’ It’s the easiest thing to say. Instead, just try. Then you WILL know.
  • Prove it. A culture that is open to trying new things is one that lets employees take action, one that values evidence over opinion. Having hard evidence to quickly end internal debate means less posturing, less pontificating, and more outcome orientation.
  • Shrink the change.  To motivate action, make people feel as though they are already closer to the finish line.
  • Build habits. If people activate and use their innovation breeding habits, change will be more easily embraced. From the beginning, start building the habits.
  • Point to a destination and communicate clearly how you will get there. Your ability to shape your future depends on how well you communicate where you want to be when you get there. When ideas are communicated effectively, people follow and change. Basically, if you want people to change you must provide crystal clear direction.
  • Subtract. Innovation is subtractive. If you want people to adopt something, eliminate something they already have or do. Case in point: meetings. Executives want innovation, but they don’t take the time to really think about what impedes it. One, is time. And unnecessary meetings take the most of people’s time.

Most of these strategies fit most everyone, but others are context dependent. For example, your organization may have a history of trying new things. But at the same time, because you do so many things you have no focus. This means you have to be more disciplined and some people may not want to do that since they are having so much fun just trying whatever rings their bell. This is a good opportunity to subtract and shrink.

In overcoming resistance to change, a good rule of thumb is this: If good ideas make peoples lives easier, they’ll be more likely to be adopted. Just make sure you can make that as clearly and viscerally as possible.