The Importance of Managing Resistance to Change

The tube strikes held by Transport for London (TfL) workers in early 2014 posed serious inconvenience and disruption bringing the whole city to a halt.

Last-minute talks between Boris and Bob orchestrated by the media just appeared too late in the day with the frustration of the Trade Union crying out “resistance to change”.

People don’t react well to change being imposed on them. They need to understand the reasons for change and in the case of the unions, have the opportunity to help craft what the change will look like for the people most affected.

In our experience as a Business Change consultancy we often work with organisations facing similar challenges as TfL, implementing new working practices, new technologies, business acquisitions and efficiency improvement programmes, all affecting people.

We advise that before embarking on change you should identify and involve the right people in honest discussions, helping to create a sense of need and understanding for the change. How will this affect our people? What are the risks? What outcomes can we expect?

Consider the needs of the different stakeholders affected and involve them, what will the change look like for them? Forming this unity will help to obtain buy-in and agreement which can then form part of the overall change strategy. For TfL the unions are key stakeholders in their change journey.

Once this element has been established look throughout the organisation to adopt change advocates, from managers through to the employees, representing all levels and areas of the organisation, positively and honestly cascading information, developing a two-way communication in preparation for change.

Giving people what they need to succeed

Create the story and vision, bringing the change to life, making it culturally relevant and executing through compelling communications. It is important to set realistic expectations, delivering both positive and negative messages with clear direction of what this means for the individual, addressing concerns and anxieties.

Provide learning and support for new ways of working, recognising that people learn in different ways. There are so many ways that learning can be delivered, face-to-face, experiential, elearning and social collaboration, consider the best methods, minimising disruption and maximising learning.

Guiding people through the change journey

Once the strategy has been implemented recognise barriers and take action quickly. Use case studies and scenarios to demonstrate the change in practice and get people involved, talk to them, they need to know that they play a crucial part in the change journey. It is important to take time to monitor and measure the effectiveness of the change, using your change advocate network and communications forums. It takes time to change attitudes and behaviours so remember to reinforce your messages and make the change part of their normal world.

The above is good practice and implemented well can break down change resistance but of course we recognise it is much harder in situations where people are threatened by job loss as in the TfL situation.

We recently worked with an organisation, also largely unionised, who were going through a large office relocation. The move was an exciting opportunity for the company to bring their teams together, working collaboratively in one building with an obvious cost saving through efficiency, however, the location not suitable for everyone meant that a large number of employees were leaving the organisation.

We worked with them to create belonging and pride in their work and projects, for those staying and for the people leaving behind their legacy. For those staying it was an opportunity to create a future vision, recognising and rewarding good practice and performance through employee roadshows, team videos, staff awards, case studies, featured team posters and articles.

For those leaving it was about capturing their knowledge and years of expertise. A number of these individuals were videoed through knowledge share clips, giving them a real sense of pride in what they had achieved, discussing best practice, ways of working and crucial real-life information not captured in technical manuals that would have been lost forever.

Hopefully TfL will effectively include the unions in their change journey, involving the right people, making the change sustainable and getting the support and backing from the people most affected – the workers. It’s still early days for them but dealing with change resistance is essential for every change.

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