“Strategies For Managing Employees Who Resist Change,” Published in Forbes

This article was originally published on Forbes. Read it here!

Growing a business often requires developing people. But what can a leader do if someone on the team isn’t interested in growing?

In my work as an executive coach and consultant for high-performing teams, I often counsel executives who have two different mindsets toward growth. Some people are excited by change, seeing it as an adventure and opportunity, while others fear and resist it because of the unknown. Outstanding leaders tune into these differences and value what more cautious team members bring to the table while also coaching them to embrace growth.

What if someone is downright resistant to change?

One answer might be, “fire them.” You have to do what’s best for the team and the business, right?

Sometimes it’s not that simple.

One of my coaching clients struggles with a long-time employee named Carol. Carol has been with the company for 10 years. Not only that, she was the third employee the owner hired, and there is a strong family-like feeling in their relationship. Carol also knows how to do everything in the business; her institutional knowledge is an asset.

The problem, however, is that Carol refuses to try more effective ways of doing things. When new employees suggest ideas for improving workflow processes, Carol resorts to passive-aggressive behavior. She has an automatic “no!” at the ready when someone suggests upgrading to new software, trying a new technology, or moving to a bigger office space. She undermines new ideas by whispering to other employees about the “crazy new people and their silly suggestions.”

Carol’s internal dialogue probably sounds something like this: "I’m happy with the way things are. I don’t know why these new employees keep suggesting that we try different ways of working. I have been part of this company for many years, and I know how to do my job. No one has a right to tell me how to improve!"

So how do you encourage growth in someone who would be happy to continue operating as if it were 1999 instead of 2017?

Employees who are resistant to change are unaware of the fear that governs their behavior. Leaders who want to promote growth would do well to remember this. They can also work to combat resistance by using these six strategies:

1. Inspire with vision. Paint a vivid picture of the post-change workplace, including details for how employees will benefit personally and how others on the team will benefit. Describe why the change matters.

2. Provide affirmation. Notice when change-resistant employees take small steps in a new direction and affirm them for their efforts to grow.

3. Respond calmly to mistakes. Let your people know that mistakes will happen, and that’s OK. Mistakes and failure are a necessary part of learning and growing.

4. Tie job performance to collaboration. Provide frequent feedback regarding collaborative behaviors and make being a team player part of job performance evaluations.

5. Share progress. Point out the impact individual growth is having on the team and the company.

6. Encourage emotional awareness. Give employees a chance to reflect on the positive emotion that comes with facing fear, tackling a difficult challenge, or learning something new.

It’s also important to set a timeline for evaluating progress. If after three to six months, employees still resist adapting to new systems, it’s time to implement a plan for replacing them. These are the difficult decisions successful leaders are sometimes required to make.

Of course, leaders can’t expect team members to expand beyond their comfort zones without doing the same themselves. Acquiring new skills and sharing personal stories about mastering them can help erode the fear that underlies resistance to change.

To open the door to more productive conversations for moving forward and creating the desired future, leaders can focus on developing these six skills for leading through change and inspiring superior performance:

• The ability to articulate a positive vision of growth for individuals as well as the company.

• Awareness of and skill in managing the emotions of others.

• Improved listening skills so people feel comfortable expressing their concerns openly.

• The ability to stay solutions-focused in the face of resistance.

• Empathy for someone who views change differently.

• Skill in holding people accountable for collaborative team behaviors that produce successful results.

Obviously, change happens whether you want it to or not. The irony for someone like Carol is that refusing to learn new systems and acquire new skills can result in even greater disruption: being freed to find an entirely new job.

As for my client, she now views the situation with Carol as less of a headache and more of a growth opportunity for herself as a leader. She’s learning how to manage through her own emotions as well as through a team member’s resistance. She’s raising her emotional intelligence quotient and honing her change management skills. She is growing. Her business is growing too.