How to Manage Resistance to Change Within an Agile Organization
If you don't model an openness to change, why would your employees?
If you want your business to succeed, you know it needs to remain as adaptable as possible. You need to introduce new products, make operational changes and adapt to new competitors if you want to stay afloat. However, if there is sufficient change resistance among your partners or within your team, you may find it difficult to introduce and embrace these changes.
What tools do you have to combat change resistance and keep your business as agile as possible?
Change resistance and organizational inertia
Change resistance manifests in a variety of different forms. Sometimes, a single individual is responsible for blockading a potential development because they're afraid of change or because they're uncomfortable with the prospect of doing something different.
Other times, two people in charge of making the decision can't come to an agreement about what to do. Still other times, the opportunity for change never presents itself because the organization isn't looking for new ways to adapt.
However it manifests, organizational inertia will hold your business back from achieving its true potential. So what can you do to address it?
Establishing an agile workplace culture
One of your first goals is to establish an agile workplace culture. Introduce and reinforce the cultural norms and values necessary to give your employees an agile mindset. The simplest iteration of this is adding concepts like flexibility and versatility to your list of company core values. Of course, if you want to see a practical benefit from these additions, you'll need to take things a step further and intentionally hire people who seem flexible and willing to adapt.
Changing your organizational culture is a process that takes time, and ironically, resistance to change can get in your way here. Remain patient if you're trying to transform the culture of an already established business.
Breaking up bureaucracy
You can also introduce more agility by breaking up any bureaucratic structures that are bogging your business down. Bureaucracy is an infrastructure designed to mitigate risk, so it does have some benefits. However, many business owners eventually find that bureaucratic processes simply waste time and have a strong bias toward maintaining the status quo.
These are some of the ways you can break up bureaucracy:
Make faster decisions. Find a way to make faster decisions. Instead of submitting every decision to a committee or taking weeks to evaluate potential plans, make the decision right away. Obviously, high-stakes decisions shouldn't be made impulsively, but they also don't need weeks or months of deliberation.
Streamline workflows. Take a look at your internal company workflows and see if you can streamline them to be faster and dependent on fewer individuals. Instead of running every decision up the flagpole, or sending plans to several different departments, can you shorten the distance between an idea and actionable change?
Empower individuals. Consider empowering the individuals at the ground level to make more decisions and changes autonomously. Some organizations never change significantly because decision making is highly restricted, and every decision needs to make its way to the top before being approved. Organizations where employees have more independence and autonomy tend to be much more agile.
Making unfamiliarity and discomfort acceptable norms
One of the biggest root causes of organizational inertia is status quo bias, a cognitive distortion baked into human nature that makes us uncomfortable with anything novel or unfamiliar. You can't change people's personalities or natural tendencies, but you can make your workforce more comfortable with being in unfamiliar situations by introducing unfamiliar situations more frequently. If each individual on your team is forced to confront something new or something unexpected on a daily basis, they'll end up being much more comfortable with bigger and more significant changes to the workplace environment.
Setting an example
Set an example for the rest of your team. If you follow the same routine every day and you refuse to change, your staff members aren't going to be inspired to embrace unfamiliar concepts or change the way they work. On the other hand, if you're constantly trying new things and you're open minded to all sorts of new ideas, your team will be much more open to change.
Providing individual feedback
If there are individuals on your team who are particularly resistant to change or unwilling to adapt, have a conversation with them. Sometimes, providing individual feedback is all it takes to help change someone's mind or encourage them to be more open minded about potential changes in the future.
Change resistance is something that every business has to deal with, no matter how agile they were planned in the beginning or how much bureaucracy they have to contend with. However, with the right set of strategies and enough determination, you can overcome change resistance in your organization and forge a path toward greater agility.
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