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How to Overcome Resistance to Change and Improve Productivity

How to Overcome Resistance to Change and Improve Productivity

By Steve Pogue

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About: How to Overcome Resistance to Change and Improve Productivity

You’ve got a great new idea that will improve the performance of your latest marketing campaign.

The problem: you need your team to make changes to their process. And they don’t seem too thrilled about it. Resistance is all too common. In fact, 38% of employees say they don’t agree with the change they are being asked to make.

In this webinar and accompanying article, Workzone’s Director of Marketing, Diana Asbury, and Director of Sales, Glynnis Purcell led an interactive and engaging 60-minute live discussion on:

  • Why do employees resist change, new ideas, and processes?
  • How to overcome resistance to change with three research-backed ideas
  • How you can utilize positive leadership styles to get your team on board from the start

Watch: How to Overcome Resistance to Change and Improve Productivity

How to Overcome Resistance to Change and Improve Productivity webinar was originally recorded December 9, 2020

Looking for a project management software company that will actually help you adopt and maintain success…and the software is really good? Let’s talk.

Key timestamps

  • 9:08 – 70% of change management programs fail…Why all the resistance to change?
  • 21:39 – Addressing resistance to change within your team
  • 29:32 – Why top-performing teams have difficulty adapting to change

Resources & articles mentioned in this webinar

Attendee reactions

“I was just speaking with a colleague yesterday about organizational change and Slacked them during the webinar. I thoroughly enjoyed it! Great job!”

-Paige, Digital Marketing

“I’ve been having trouble with pushback from staff and finding different ways to approach them plus finding out that methods I’m using are correct was helpful.”

-Aly, Operations

How to Overcome Resistance to Change and Improve Productivity

Get this article as a PDF

In every organization, there comes a time when you need to institute new processes or a large change initiative. At Workzone Project Management, we see organizations facing this challenge every day.

In fact, adoption is our customers’ #1 challenge.

For years, we believed we could help customers influence buy-in by adding features. Our hope was that if every team member had access to their most desired features then they would immediately want to dive in and start using our software.

But after almost 20 years we came to a striking realization:

Software features alone won’t inspire team-wide adoption.

Our customers aren’t alone. A study published in the Journal of Change Management found that over 70% of change programs fail.

How to Overcome Resistance to Change - Most change programs fail

We want you to beat those odds, so we created this webinar and article.

When you introduce change you’ll likely find that your team members fall into one of these three categories:  

  1. Early Adopters and Influencers are just as excited as you are. They’ve wanted this change and will do everything they can to make it happen.
  2. Passive Adopters might be interested in the change, will most likely be compliant with the change, but won’t actively push to make it happen.
  3. Resisters are unsure of the change or are actively against the change. They might try to stop the change if they think it’s against what they believe is best.

To move ahead, it’s imperative that you’re able to address the resisters. For example, we’ll walk through how to do so using this three-step framework.

  1. Share and discuss your process change solution with an open mind.
  2. Identify why the resisters are against the change and address that resistance.
  3. Turn those points of resistance into an action plan.
How to Overcome Resistance to Change - Identifying resisters bell curve

#1 Discuss your process change solution with an open mind

For this three-step framework to be effective, it’s essential for you to begin with the mindset that employees want to do the best job they can for their employers. There are many reasons why employees resist change. In step 2 you’ll learn three ways you can affect the way that they see change, even if they are resistant at first.

Why employees resist change

  • They are skeptical due to past failed change efforts
  • They don’t feel included in the change process

Include your team in selection and training

Change is overwhelming and confusing. A team may not want to change at all. If they aren’t included in the selection or trained well on the new software, they’ll revolt.

That’s why one core piece of our onboarding is comprehensive team training. After administrators are onboarded, it becomes all about the team. As many sessions as you need. All included in your contract.

Want the best software onboarding experience?

#2 Identify why team members are resisting and address it

There are three psychological reasons why most employees resist change.

  1. Mistrust
  2. Pessimism
  3. Comfort

The good news is that there are research-backed solutions that can help you overcome each one.

Identifying a lack of trust

Attachment Theory is a well-known psychological concept that states a strong emotional attachment to at least one primary caregiver, in this case their manager, is critical to personal development.

You can identify mistrust if an employee is often unfocused, avoidant, and dismissive. In this moment, their anxiety levels are high so they may want to quickly flee conversations.

How to Overcome Resistance to Change - Attachment Theory

Addressing Mistrust

Now that you’ve identified a lack of trust in an employee, you might be wondering, “Where does this come from?”

There are many reasons employees struggle to trust their manager, and not all of them may fall on your shoulders. Maybe they’ve had multiple leaders, leadership hasn’t always been forthcoming, or they are concerned that their job is on the line.

No matter the reason, to garner an employee’s trust you’ll need to take the necessary steps to show them that you are trustworthy.

  1. Be consistent – It’s imperative for leaders to have predictable behaviors. Avoid making knee-jerk decisions and be consistent every day. You can read more about The Power of Predictability in this Harvard Business Review article. 
  1. Be fair – Make sure you’re being fair. Give employees the same treatment and be willing to walk the walk yourself.
  1. Be transparent – Honesty goes a long way. Even when the news isn’t good news, your employees should know that they can trust you’ll be upfront with them. 
  1. Be protective – Employees need to know that you have their back; you won’t throw them under the bus when something goes wrong.

Identifying a pessimistic outlook

In a survey of employees cited on page 4, they found that the number one reason employees are resistant to change is that they are skeptical due to past failed change efforts.

Dr. Martin Seligman, Director of the Penn Positive Psychology Center, wrote a best-selling book about his research called Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life.

“Learned helplessness is the giving-up reaction, the quitting response that follows from the belief that whatever you do doesn’t matter.“ – Martin Seligman, Ph.D., Director of the Penn Positive Psychology Center, Wharton Professor

How to Overcome Resistance to Change - Dr Robert Seligman

To illustrate this concept, imagine you have a team member who consistently reacts negatively to feedback, makes excuses, and is reluctant when asked to share. You may think they’re just being difficult or that they don’t want to improve.

But as you dig deeper you learn that every time they’ve shared an idea it’s been turned down. Every time they’ve attempted something new they’ve gotten negative feedback. Over time, this team member has learned that nothing they do will be good enough.

They’ve learned to think that the worst will happen.

Addressing Pessimism

Dr. Seligman found that if pessimism can be learned, it can also be unlearned. It starts with what he calls our explanatory style…how we speak to ourselves about failure.

So if you’re seeing a general lack of interest in change because someone thinks that everything they try or your team tries fails, you’ll need to help them change the dialogue around failure.

Let’s say you’ve introduced a change in the process. They feel that it’s not worth doing because your past process wasn’t successful. Help them transform their explanatory style:

  1. Permanent to Temporary – It has only been an issue for a short time and you can work together to fix it.
  1. Pervasive to Specific – This is just one process. Other processes you have in place are working well.
  1. Personal to External – You and our team aren’t the cause of this process not working, but we can work to find a new process that works great.

Identifying a team that’s too comfortable

Your team is good. They know what they’re good at and they know how to get the job done. So why would they be opposed to change? They can just transfer their skills into a new area, right?

A Stanford study found that there’s a reason why even great-performing teams have a difficult time changing. It’s called the “Competence Trap.”

Competence Trap: A team that is competent in their current work will have a difficult time transferring that success to new challenges.

Why top-performing teams have difficulty adapting to change

  1. They’re already being rewarded and praised for what they do well.
  2. They have trouble setting realistic expectations since they already perform at a high level.
How to Overcome Resistance to Change - Competance Trap

Addressing comfort in your current process

For a team to accept change they need to remember how long it took them to see the success they have today. They need to set realistic expectations, not based on their current success. And they need room to be able to fail.

When addressing mistrust, we recommend that you shouldn’t make knee-jerk reactions. So as excited as you are about your new process change and you want to hit the ground running, a Harvard study found that people are less resistant to change if it’s scheduled for the future.

It’s not because you want to put off that decision or plan to change your mind; it’s because people need time to adjust to their new future. If you give them that time they’re more likely to

settle into that change.

  1. Reset expectations – Show your team that it’s okay if you don’t see results immediately and remind them how long it took your team to be successful at what they do well now.
  1. Schedule change for the future – Relieve immediate tension by scheduling this new process change for a few weeks down the line.

#3 Turn resistance into an action plan

Last but not least, you’ll want to turn the team’s objections into objectives.

Let’s pretend you have an employee who is worried that they won’t have enough time to implement this new process. It’s legitimate. They already have a full-time job, and you’re asking them to do more work. The process outlined below can help lead you through a productive conversation with the employee:

How to turn objections into objectives

  1. Get to the root of the problem. “So what I hear you saying is ________. Is that right?”
  1. Turn that objection into an objective. “For this to succeed, we need to ________.”
  1. Get their commitment. “If we are able to ________, are you on board with this change?”

3-Step Formula: How to Overcome Resistance to Change

Your team members don’t wake up in the morning thinking: “I want to do a bad job today.” They come to work with the intention to do great work. All you need to do is tap into what’s already there.

Next time you’re introducing new processes or a large change initiative, imagine how you can use the 3-step framework outlined in this document to guide your team through a clear adoption


Here’s what it could look like:

  1. Discuss your process change solution with an open mind – Listen carefully as you hear feedback about how this change will affect your team and the organization.
  1. Identify why team members are resisting and address it – Make sure you are taking the right actions to increase trust, overcome past failures, and set expectations. 
  1. Turn resistance into an action plan – Turn specific objections into objectives so that you can gain buy-in for change. 
3 Step Formula

Webinar transcript

Glynnis Purcell (00:06):
Welcome to today’s webinar, Why Your Team Resists Change and How to Improve Productivity? My name is Glynnis Purcell, and I’m the director of sales here at Workzone project management. And I’m joined here today by our speaker and Workzone’s director of marketing, Diana Asbury. And usually we call in from our headquarters located just outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but as most of you are probably doing, and we have been for the last few months, we are calling in from home.

Workzone is proud to be the project management software market leader in customer success and onboarding due to our unmatched Success & Support teams. Allow us to help your team build a framework for sustainable success in your project management.

Steve Pogue is the Marketing Operations Manager at Workzone. He writes about project management tips and the buying process. When not at Workzone, you can find him playing vintage base ball or relaxing with his family at home.