Overcoming Resistance to Innovate: Become a change agent

We all know that the greatest obstacle to innovation isn’t the change itself, but the reluctance of accepting it. Fear of the unknown is a major culprit to this adverseness. Employees, and people in general, are concerned about their ability to accept, manage or control change. They worry about the ways innovation will alter or even eliminate their jobs. Employees get comfortable in their routine and accept this as how it’s supposed to be, so it’s only natural that they might scoff at change if their current responsibilities leave them little time to learn new processes or technology. Others may recall past attempts at innovation that weren’t successful and assume the next round of change is simply another “project du jour” that comes and goes.

Companies can ease a transition by acknowledging and addressing the reasons employees might resist it in advance of implementation. For new initiatives to succeed, you’ll need strong buy-in from most employees. The following steps can help.

Communicate. Determine upfront how the change is expected to impact employees from their current routine and communicate these variations. They will want to know what is changing and how it will impact them going forward. Present how the benefits will impact the business overall. This could mean talking about expanded job responsibilities will likely result as the company grows. Or, a new technology solution may allow employees to spend less time on repetitive tasks and more time on jobs that make better use of their skills.

At the same time, there could be negative impacts to some employees. Be upfront if the change is likely to affect employees in ways some might not like. For instance, a new software integrates shipping orders, accounts receivable, collections and reporting, but also means employees will need to spend time training in order to alter their workflow. At the start of the change process, let workers know how processes will change, as well as the steps the company is taking to train them for the transition.

Educate. Engage employees about where the company has been and where it is headed. Employees may recall past attempts at innovation that weren’t successful. Talk with employees about how the process has changed and the steps the company is taking to improve the results. Those who understand the reasons for change, as well as its likely benefits and consequences, are less likely to fear it. Conversely, a lack of communication can leave employees confused with a lack of direction and even more fearful. They may assume management is withholding information because the change will negatively impact workers.

Ask for feedback. Engage in open dialogue to hear questions or concerns. As the proposed change is developing, garner as much input as possible. Provide a platform where they can share their concerns without prejudice or anonymously. Some may want to reflect on their own after hearing the facts and offer written comments. Initiate anonymous input by sending a survey to all employees or some other platform that can accumulate the responses. It’s possible even a minor change will have a significant impact on some jobs.

The more that employees are able to provide input and suggestions, the more likely they are to take ownership and support the change. The discussions may provide additional insight leading to a successful transition.

Create an implementation team. The implementation team should have a leader who understands all nuances of the change and can navigate the company’s culture and help smooth any bureaucratic hurdles. The team should also include a champion who fully supports the change and can articulate the case for the change to employees. These champions know how to motivate and build excitement with their influence.

Provide training. Early in the process, offer training specifically designed to cover all aspects and nuances of the change. Employees often fear innovation because they’re not sure if they’ll be able to master a new process or technology. Provide the education and resources they’ll need to successfully adapt, including time away from their normal responsibilities to learn the new system or process. The initial training can be overwhelming, so be prepared to provide resources that employees will be able to reference afterward.

Start small. You’re more likely to gain an early win and build momentum from early adopters. Begin the process with a small group of employees and use their questions to refine the change and your approach for the rollout process. A steady rollout helps employees gradually become accustomed to a new process or system, which can drive acceptance.

Ongoing feedback is key

After implementation, continue gathering feedback on an ongoing basis. Find ways to solicit anonymous feedback to encourage honest feedback, questions and improvement ideas. Even the most thoughtful and well-implemented innovations can improve with revision. Innovation comes from constant change.


“It’s important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better.” -Elon Musk


About the Authors

John E. Jenkins
John E. Jenkins
Partner, Taxation Services


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