Strategies for Project Managers to overcome resistance to change Part II

Selfishness is another reason for resistance to change. People want to know what is in it for them. If there is nothing for the individual, then why do it? Why waste time on something that has no benefit? I can understand this thinking because how long would people remain at a job that did not pay them? I suspect that most people would leave pretty soon after the lack of a paycheck. 

That does not mean that no one would volunteer for something. It just means that if one is promised payment and is not given, people are apt to leave quickly. If one is a volunteer, then there is an understanding that payment is not coming, and so is not expected. Those working on projects expect payment in return for their time and effort. 

Often individuals want to disregard this type of resistance, but it is certainly a motivator for many people. If people have to work hard for the benefit of others, without any benefit, people will resist that change. Making a project benefit everyone is the solution that needs to be created. It does not mean that everyone has to benefit equally, but everyone must get some benefit. Some people think a paycheck should be sufficient motivation, but that is not always the case. There are times when people expect more, such as recognition or experience.

The solution to this form of resistance is to create a ‘win–win’ solution. The project manager has to make the change more enticing to people than resisting the change. The organization or project manager might need to change the reward or performance appraisal system. Make whatever changes you can to make change attractive to all people involved. Give people a reason to make the change, and then more people will move towards that change than resist it.

Another reason for resisting change is blame. People do not want to be blamed, and people know there is the possibility of blame for any change. Once, a program manager would ask for volunteers from his project managers to head up new projects. One time, he put out a call for volunteers, and no one volunteered. He asked the team why no one had volunteered. The most senior project manager explained that new projects were just a new opportunity to take the blame. If the project worked and was successful, no one cared as it was ‘part of the job.’ If the project fails or is unsuccessful, the project manager would be saddled with the blame, which could lead to larger consequences. People are not foolish, and change can lead to blaming, and blame can lead to unemployment. Rather than not changing and remaining passive, one might not have to take a significant risk and end up being blamed. People suffer blame when they take action that is perceived as wrong. It is hard to blame someone that did not take action; after all, they will say they were waiting for approval.

 Any change is going to bring a healthy dose of skepticism. It is human nature to believe that planned change is doomed to failure. After all, some change fails, and people will remember those failures much longer than the successes. In addition, a person will suspect anyone touting a vision of the future that will change us. After all, salespeople are soothsayers who always offer great things, but those great things do not always come to pass. Cynicism is a common concern of change agents. Leading change leaves the initiator open to criticism. Criticism is put one step away from blame. A project manager must learn the painful lesson of not being afraid of criticism. Rejection is just a sign of resistance to change and has nothing to do with the idea’s value. If people are not rejecting the change, they might just be agreeable until you leave. 

The only way to effectively counter cynicism is to strengthen those that believe in the change. Spending time trying to change a critic is not valuable. What is helpful is reinforcing your position and those that support it by overwhelming the opposition with the facts about the change. Critics change their tune quickly when faced with serious and focused opposition with factual details supporting the change.

Another common strategy regarding resistance to change is avoidance. The project manager might find themselves with some people agreeing in person but silently rejecting the change. Those who resist change might even try to avoid the project manager and hope they can wait them out. If the project manager is not diligent, people might avoid the change by pretending not to know. One cannot be responsible for the change that one does not know. This strategy is how sometimes people believe they can avoid punishment. People think ignorance of the change can mean they can ignore it. After all, the blame falls upon the project manager if they do not get everyone trained and supported.

The project manager will need to watch out for those that agree but do not attend. People applying avoidance will be ‘too busy’ or ‘unavailable’ when training or education is offered. People may also try to use time off or other similar avoidance strategies. They will feel that it is not the fault of the individual that a close friend has a wedding during the agreed upon training week. Or training falls on an important deadline, and they will not be able to attend. They will offer to catch up later or attend another session that they will also be too busy to attend.

The project manager must remain steadfast so that they must attend, participate and embrace the change. Holding people accountable is the only way to ensure everyone is successful. If necessary, go to their boss and let them know what is happening. No one wants someone trying to get out of required work, so keeping them in the loop is essential to holding serial avoiders accountable. Do not be afraid to copy their boss to make it harder for them to avoid the change.

Groupthink is dangerous because groups can act contrary to reason and enlightened self-interest. Groupthink is the bane of all change because a group of people is more likely to feel that they are correct, even with the lack of supporting information. People will naturally huddle together to avoid things that appear unusual or perhaps would alter their perception. People want to reject the new and different when other people are doing the same. The herd mentality gets stronger the higher the number of people willing to believe a false truth.

Continual reinforcement of the change is the best counter to groupthink. When the benefits of change are continually reinforced, it becomes difficult for resistance groups to band together. Create slogans or market the change internally so that people are aware of the impact and importance of the change. Make sure to hold multiple educational sessions to explain the benefits of the change. Making the path of least resistance towards the change will help more people accept and move with it rather than resist it.

In the end, these are proven suggestions to overcome resistance a manager might encounter. The manager must modify their style and leverage what they can to accommodate the situation. No one right way to resist change exists, just as no perfect organization exists. The more techniques a person can learn, the more flexibility they will have in meeting their ultimate goal of overcoming resistance to change. 

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