How to Manage Organisational Resistance to Change When Building Organisational Capability Programs
The question is never if you’ll encounter resistance to change, but when and how you’ll manage it.
When it comes to facing down resistance for capability building programs, the key is to look inward. You’ll find that the root cause of most resistance is a human fear of change, which is why you need to show that capability building benefits employees as much as it drives business performance.
What does organisational resistance look like?
Treating organisational resistance with high-level solutions won’t get a program off the ground any quicker. You need to get on the ground and understand what the everyday hurdles are for the workforce.
There needs to be a purpose (or “why”) for everyone, not just your top-level stakeholders. That means answering “What’s in it for me?” and “What does the change mean to me?”
- What’s in it for me? Demonstrate what the benefit of new capability-led programs will be. Reshuffled job descriptions could provide more nuanced learning pathways.
- What does it mean to me? Show the value add, not the potential loss. Better or more accessible career progression based on personal competence, not just pre-determined career movement.
It also helps to ensure HR and leaders are communicating in terms employees understand, i.e. the way in which work truly occurs. For example: “Seeking innovation” may make sense strategically, but it doesn’t give much context for a capability for employees to attain.
Don’t be afraid of the practical warning signals that resistance creates, either. Consider resistance a red flag; something is going wrong, but you’re not sure what. Creating channels for diagnosis will help build trust in change-makers and institutionalise feedback loops. Filter them into a feedback cycle, such as engagement surveys during and after courses.
And last, but certainly not least, you need to create sponsors to communicate the purpose of a new capability-led initiative to employees. Transparency is always the best policy, especially if you show employees the problem (e.g. poor strategic alignment between learning and business means less certainty in progression for employees) and then present how to resolve the problem (capability building programs designed for strategic impact). The story you tell to managers doesn’t necessarily have to be different than what employees hear; if anything, creating more meaningful learning opportunities for employees only enhances team effectiveness and ability to meet the KPIs leaders care about.
Why do organisations find it hard to overcome resistance to change?
The problem with organisational resistance is that it is generally rooted in emotion. That can be emotional responses to:
- Lack of internal trust for the changemaker or who/what the changemaker represents
- Much of the labour needed for the change being done by someone other than the changemaker
- Poor communication around the purpose and benefits of the change initiative.
Your workforce-at-large will cling to the status quo not because it is necessarily working, but because it is comfortable and predictable. Ill-managed psychological transitions will be the undoing of even the best-laid change management plan. What does that come down to? Managers.
Overlooking managers as agents of change in the process will only open the floodgates to dissent. That could be excluding them from co-ownership of capability building to begin with—since that’s where you’ll secure their buy-in with truly impactful KPIs. Essentially, if you don’t bring managers in early, you won’t give them the tools and motivation to sell change to their employees.
What is the impact of poor change management when building organisational capability?
The simplest answer is you lose the trust of those who are meant to execute that change: Your workforce.
The real problem here is that culture is central to organisational capability. Dysfunctional teams, low personal engagement, and selfish or siloed work habits undermine the team effort needed to fulfil organisational capability. A workforce without a shared purpose are unable to make their own informed judgements, which only means that time to value after learning will be extended as employees seek to validate capabilities against the various understandings of competence that exist.
And that loss of productivity is deep and sustained, creating:
- A legacy of failed change for HR and L&D
- Turnover of valued but disgruntled employees
- Active resistance to future initiatives
- Wastage of resources, both financial and subject matter expertise
- Tangible negative impacts for customers, clients or stakeholders.
Ultimately, capacity building is the sibling to capability building that needs to be thought of in advance of any programs.
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