1. Expect to handle some type of resistance.
The first thing you should do is expect some form of resistance. It might be easily identified like a vocal group of naysayers who are opposed to the new system. Other forms of resistance will be more difficult to identify like stakeholders adding impossible to meet requirements, lack of participation, or avoidance. Resistance is either active or passive in nature. Active resistance is encountered when someone takes certain steps to undermine, delay, or disrupt a change effort. Passive resistance is when someone does not take certain actions and this can be just as problematic. Avoidance, refusing to participate, missing deadlines, and holding back critical inputs are all examples of passive resistance. Those that think resistance will not appear are often surprised to find some type of resistance sometimes identified only after a project stalls. Its best to admit some form of resistance will be there early and fold in mitigation steps should it appear.
2. Engage stakeholders.
One of the best remedies for identifying and minimizing resistance is engagement. Engaged properly, armed with reasons for the change and the future state vision, many stakeholders can be turned into proponents for the change. The proponents can engage others more skeptical or slower to accept the change. Engagement can take different forms and should be tailored for specific Stakeholder groups. Some engagement can occur in groups but then other engagement can be made in smaller groups or even one on one. Engagement can take place in group workshops to cover large stakeholder groups; it can also take place in one-on-one, face-to-face opportunities with key managers. The key here is to engage early and often so those affected can have their voice and so potential resistance pockets can be identified.
3. Listen to concerns.
Listening to concerns serves several purposes: one is to provide stakeholders an opportunity to learn about the change, another is to provide the implementation team with new data that might inform the solution. As a result, it is useful to all players to have concerns heard. Often times simply offering a time to vent and be heard can move stakeholders along the change curve towards adoption. Good ideas are often uncovered as the concerns are evaluated and prioritized. At the same time you have to be careful with how you provide this type of engagement. Prepare feedback sessions carefully so they do not backfire.
4. Weave stakeholder ideas into the project.
After listening to concerns, the project team has to decide if action is warranted. It is best to consider all concerns, addressing each at an appropriate level. Some ideas might float to the top and become very visible, solution adjustments might be needed. In this case it is best to highlight where the idea came from giving credit where credit is due. This approach highlights that the solution was not developed in a vacuum and provides assurance to the stakeholders that they are a part of the solution. Credit for other ideas might be less obvious or may become difficult to incorporate, still others will be rejected. Care must be taken to ensure the culture of the organization is offered an opportunity to express itself but then if cultural changes are required, the urgency of the change must be highlighted.
5. Be creative! Resistance can be mitigated in many ways!
Workshops and announcements are not the only way to mitigate resistance. Sure people want their ideas heard and the future state vision has to be explained, but moving people along the change curve can be accomplished in many ways. Stakeholders respond to different things just as we are all individuals. And then some reasons for resistance, like a culture that supports tradition, can be useful if harnessed properly. If you have a tradition of excellence and stakeholders leverage tradition as a reason to hold their position, a simple flip to an outward view showing how tradition supports movement towards utilizing the best tools available might be a good approach. The important thing is to be creative and flexible; building trust and reducing uncertainty through transparency can be as simple as a request and thank you. Group recognition and incentives can go a long way in our ever changing workplaces too. The bottom line, creativity is needed to keep resistance low.
Whether you are in the planning stages of an organizational change effort or in the middle of executing a major change effort, resistance in all its forms should be considered. No matter what you are changing, you should expect resistance, its human nature. Engaging stakeholders and listening to their concerns are early steps to mitigating resistance. Using the ideas from those who will experience the change can be very helpful, and then developing creative ways to move them towards the future state vision can pay big dividends. A coordinated change plan with all these elements designed as the solution is developed becomes an indispensable tool. Keep these things in mind and you will do better by keeping resistance low while maintaining momentum towards your vision.