Cerys looks at two factors that are often overlooked when considering resistance to day-to-day change resistance and how we can start to untangle them.

Much of the way that change and adoption are currently pursued inside organisations focuses on big changes bought about by product or service implementation. Almost all change frameworks have advice on how to reduce resistance. But with change becoming an everyday constant, managers need to get better at minimising some of the small but persistent causes of resistance that can occur within teams if they are to unlock their full potential.

Reducing Dissonance

What is cognitive dissonance? Essentially, when we have to hold two conflicting thoughts at the same time, we can experience emotional stress as we work out how to resolve them. Simple examples of dissonance in the workplace are often given in training courses. For example, people seem to take longer breaks than the employee manual indicates are acceptable, and in your first few weeks, you might find it difficult to reconcile these two things. Examples such as this one do nothing but minimise the impact of dissonance, and are unhelpful in understanding the true experience of employees today.

The theory of change motivation suggests that our natural urge to reduce dissonance is a key motivator for making change a success. But imagine the level of dissonance that occurs when a senior leader advocates radical changes to ways of working, and then doesn’t change themselves. Or when we preach a new way of doing things for customers, made possible by the affordances of Digital Transformation, but then we see initiatives to move the company forward blocked internally. Can we really work our way through that whilst maintaining our motivation to change?

Historical cognitive dissonance isn’t easily forgotten either – those failures, the white lies, the over-selling of benefits – and can be hard to overcome. Much like a scuba diver who spends a long time submersed and then surfaces too quickly and experiences the bends, an employee who is immersed in dissonance for a long period of time can react negatively to change without necessarily understanding the reasons why.

So how can we reduce the volume of dissonance to which, our teams are exposed? Mostly usefully dealt with as a team, the simple step of starting a dialogue about how others experience it can be a good starting point. Team leads can minimise the ongoing affect of dissonance by leveraging an exercise as simple as sphere of concern/sphere of influence. We can’t always remove the dissonance, but we can minimise its disruption. It is also smart to find ways to raise systemic issues in forums where senior leaders can become more aware of them – and their impact should not be underestimated. Logs of broken processes, initiatives to move forward small, team-focused change can help people feel more in control of changing the company for the better, and in turn this helps them to begin accepting change again.

Old Guard/New Guard

This great post from John Cutler really hammers home the difference in outlook and action between those team members who have been around for some time and those who are new. The clash between them can be a key contributor to change resistance in team factions. Even teams that are friendly proponents of safe, inclusive spaces for new joiners are not always aware of the barriers to entry they create.

Again, leader-awareness is the first step to minimising or mitigating the impact. This thoughtful piece by Yaniv Bernstein shares some uncomfortable truths about this moment of clash. He also covers some great tips for members of the old and new cohorts to take onboard. For leaders, having a finger on the pulse of close to real-time team dynamics, planning for integration and pre-empting friction all shorten the cycle back into unproductive team-storming behaviours.

What other under-the-surface factors affect your team’s acceptance of day-to-day change? We’d love to hear about them!

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