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How Do I Get My Employees To Buy Into Change?

Updated on January 9, 2018
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Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, industrial engineer, mother of two, and published sci-fi and horror author.

How Do I Resolve Opposition to Change in the Workplace?

Dave Ramsey is a personal finance guru. When talking to callers during his Entreleadership hour of his radio show, one woman asked, “How do I get my employees to buy into change?”

His answer, summarized, is that they only oppose change that they see as negative or not worth the effort. For example, a change like a pay raise or winning an all expenses paid vacation are rarely going to generate opposition. Conversely, changes that cost time and money but have little to no benefit will generate opposition. Changes that people see as clearly negative they will oppose.

How do you get your employees to buy into change? By identifying why they will oppose change. Then you can resolve their often valid reasons for opposing change in the workplace. The first step then is to identify what ideas will generate opposition to change.

Making changes without a set methodology can create chaos - or make things worse. This is why many employees resist change.
Making changes without a set methodology can create chaos - or make things worse. This is why many employees resist change. | Source

When Do People Oppose Change?

  • You are making costly changes, whether in terms of time or money, for comparatively little benefit.

Too many projects start with a poor ROI and become negative when reality catches up.

  • You’ve made changes previously that had little to no benefit, regardless of scale.

Think of the family that rearranges the living room before putting it all back, or worse, remodels the house and hates the end result. Change for change's sake is a waste, and not all change is for the better. Everyone has had experiences like these. And too many people advocating for change are so engaged in the vision they neglect the sacrifices others have to make, minimize the risks to the point of failing to plan for them and outright demonize those who disagree. (Note: when someone brings up concerns and your reflexive reaction is name-calling, you're the irrational one in the discussion.)

  • You propose changes that others are afraid will lead to extra work, greater inconvenience due to complexity or difficulty for little benefit.

People may work harder or put up with hassles for a golden reward, but asking them to do it for free or peanuts generates opposition.

  • You’ve made changes before that you had to roll back.

If you have implemented changes and had to undo them, this is proof to your team that you either didn’t plan well or didn’t test the project in the first place. Opposition to new projects is thus the result of experience.

  • You have a grand vision but little practice implementing it.

The only thing worse than a newbie making a change and failing is an experienced manager who doesn’t realize he doesn’t know what he’s doing and failing.

  • You had to hire a consultant to make the change, and he or she isn’t responsible for the results.

Too many projects involve a consultant who proposes radical redesigns but doesn’t have to do much more during the transition except give a sales pitch for the new vision or blame failures on employees.

Have a plan like 5S or Six Sigma or Lean Engineering to follow to control the rate of change and type of change. Never change just for the sake of change.
Have a plan like 5S or Six Sigma or Lean Engineering to follow to control the rate of change and type of change. Never change just for the sake of change. | Source
  • Your team brings up what happens the last time you hired a consultant.

If the project proposed by the last consultant failed, you won’t get buy in by saying, “We got a different consultant!”

  • Your project will reduce headcount or reduce overtime pay.

People are sensitive to that which affects their finances, and rightfully so. They will oppose projects that threaten their jobs or their pay rates.

  • You will make their jobs harder, whether due to rules and regulations or greater workload.

The only thing worse than making less money (or none) is working harder or longer for the same pay rate. And adding additional checks and balances, more data fields to fill in or more forms to fill out in order to make as many widgets or complete as many transactions adds to their work load without comparatively more pay.

  • You ignored smaller but good ROI projects for a dramatic chop and change, because it looks better than incremental improvements.

Your proposals lose credibility when you ignored experienced staffer’s advice to make minor to moderate changes with a near certain ROI to take a big risk with uncertain returns. Too many managers and consultants ignore the risks in the hope of the rewards, to the detriment of the people who will do the work to make the changes, cope with the chaos and clean it up.

  • Your presentation is heavy on vision and sales but weak on data and numbers.

If your strategy for buy-in is closer to a pep talk than a numerical analysis, you don’t have a plan – you have a dream that you’re hoping they’ll make reality that is likely to become a nightmare.

  • Your project relies on people working 20% harder all the time.

You can sprint in short bursts, but no one can run a marathon at that speed. Projects that expect improvement based on the performance of a sprinting team will fail.

  • Your project requires a lot of training to implement.

Your changes require days of training to explain how to use and implement, and you guarantee failure if you fail to give them adequate training, expect the manual to be enough and don’t let the people retake training if they don’t get it the first time.

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