How to deal with leadership pushback

by Victoria Bruce08 Apr 2016
Change is a constant in today’s modern workplace as the harsh realities of the market economy means changes are often vital for a company’s survival.

Leaders are in a unique position to be champions of organisational change, so it’s imperative that those high places agree with the direction the organisation is taking, says Toni Greenwood from the Australian Institute of Management.

However, resistance to change is a normal part of human nature, meaning HR professionals will often have their work cut out for them, Greenwood told HC Online.

“It is a natural human tendency to prefer not to change,” Greenwood says.

“Given this, it is to be expected that at least some people in the workplace will be resistant to change, no matter how necessary or logical that change is,” she says.

This resistance is often most visible among the upper levels of the organisation, which can a devastating knock-on effect among the staff beneath them, Greenwood says.

“Senior Leaders and frontline managers who don’t advocate for the change are the most visible and sadly where the majority of the credibility lies,” Greenwood says.

While employee pushback can be challenging to manage, HR professionals need to approach the situation with compassion and open communication to ensure the best results.

“What I found has worked is up skilling your managers or key influencers to have meaningful authentic conversations with people,” Greenwood says.

“Accepting we’re not going to get it right the first time, soliciting regular informal and formal feedback from the ground up on what’s working what’s not,” she says.

“Asking questions, allowing people to create their own solutions, accept a certain amount of experimentation and honourable failure, ‘have their backs’ when they don’t succeed, make them feel safe, physically and emotionally.”

HR professionals need to be empowered to act as the true moderator between management and staff when faced with organisational change, Greenwood says.

And getting key leaders and managers on-board is fundamental to the success of any change management strategy, she says.

“Leadership behaviour is the single most effective and cost efficient way to infuse new behaviours in the organisation,” she says.

“Ironically, it often is the most difficult to bring about.”
 
She says many staff will experience feelings of fear and uncertainty when faced with change in the workplace. People often worry that the change initiative will:

• lead to job loss
• negatively affect personal status
• reduce income
• create unachievable challenges
• reduce control
• damage friendships and networks

These negative feelings can lead to employees over-reacting and resisting change through pushback, Greenwood says.
 
“It is not useful to take the view that the resistors just have to learn to live with change or that they are being deliberately obstructionist,” says Greenwood.

“This does nothing to counter any negative responses, and may in fact inflame tensions that tend to arise during any change initiative.”
 
Greenwood refers to the David Rock SCARF® Model, which she says improves people’s capacity to understand and ultimately modify their own and other people’s behaviour in social situations, to thus be more adaptive.

The SCARF model involves five domains of human, social experience: Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness and is relevant for organisational leaders and managers, organisational learning and development professionals or anyone looking to influence others.
 
When faced with resistance, HR professionals need to use their influential role to gather support and buy-in for the change with managers, supervisors and team leaders, Greenwood says.


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