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Overcoming Resistance to Change

Apr 30, 2017

When individuals at your financial institution learn about plans to change the status quo, many are likely to react with cynicism and skepticism, either vocally or privately. While these people may seem like they are just being negative or not seeing the big picture, their reactions might be quite rational and deserved.

Change management research indicates that 60 to 70 percent of change initiatives fail or do not meet objectives―surely a justification for some skepticism. That goes double when a financial institution has a poor history of implementing a change and seeing it through. In these circumstances, expecting everyone to smile and get on board with the latest initiative is essentially asking him or her to be either credulous or delusional.

Ok, so how do you overcome this problem? Here are three change management tips for addressing skepticism and establishing credibility for a new initiative:

  1. Assess your institution's readiness for change. This initial assessment is part of a good change management strategy. The goal is to gain a better understanding of what resistance to expect as well as the reasons for that resistance. Past failures might be one reason to expect resistance. Perhaps the project's intent is unclear, leadership is not truly aligned and supportive of the initiative, or supervisors and managers may not have the skills and competencies to drive change. Change readiness can be determined formally by using assessments or informally by simply talking with those impacted by the pending change. A rule of thumb is that the more potentially disruptive and/or difficult the change will be, the more formal your change readiness assessment should be.
    When you are able to identify the specific root causes of skepticism and resistance, the initiative leaders are better prepared to address these issues ahead of time and create a strategy that avoids past mistakes.
  2. Be realistic about how much change you're able to absorb. If you're adopting a new technology at the same time you're changing your mix of products and services and you just underwent a reorganization, your financial institution may not be prepared to absorb any more change for a while. You need to decide if what you're asking of people is fair.
    To create the opportunity for employees to embrace a new project and see it through, you may need to first scale back or conclude initiatives that take up their time and energy. When financial institutions just add more hours to a person's workday, they start losing good employees and it drives engagement down among those who stay.
    In today’s business climate, forces outside the control of your institution are bringing change at an accelerated pace. This requires leaders to have an understanding of the change saturation of the institution and not add internal change too quickly.
  3. Communicate, communicate, and communicate. The backbone of any successful change effort is effective communication. If your communication efforts about the change are vague and erratic, people fill in the gaps with what they believe to be true. This is where the rumor mill kicks into full gear and an unavoidable headwind is created for the change effort. 

In order to effectively communicate about the change effort, it is important to remember a few best practices:

  • Use various channels when communicating, such as email, face-to-face meetings, newsletters, and town hall sessions. All employees have preferred ways of receiving information, so it is important to reach people using multiple methods.
  • Repeat important messaging multiple times to make sure that you have truly reached your intended audience. People sometimes need to hear a message five to seven times to have it truly sink in. It is important to note that you should not repeat the same message over and over, but rather leverage multiple channels with varied but consistent content.
  • Truly manage your communication efforts by creating a communication plan. The plan should include elements such as target audience, message content, content developer, communication channel, and frequency.  If the change is important for your financial institution, then the communication around that change needs to be managed diligently.

Resistance to change is normal and exists in every organization. We also know that the amount of change we all face in today’s business climate will continue to come at accelerated rates of speed.  The ability of your financial institution to effectively manage change is truly a key ingredient to your continued and future success.



Jeffrey H. Wulf
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