The Fear of Change- The Risk & How to Manage It

by James P. Tate on March 25, 2017

With each new project being implemented in a business organization, there are two risks.  The first risk, and the most obvious, is the danger that you didn’t select the right solution for the business challenge?

The second risk is the danger of poor implementation of the solution.  A good idea badly implemented will yield a poor result; and potentially a big failure.  One major subtle factor that can destroy a good idea, or a good implementation plan, is the employees’ fear of change.

The fear of something new, or a change in the status quo, is a normal human reaction.  The intensity of this fear will vary with the individual; the circumstances of the change; and the culture of the organization.   The anxiety from an impending change may manifest itself in blatant resistance to the change, or in a subtle, passive aggressive resistance.  There could also be overt sabotage of the project by employees.  It is important to recognize that the fear of change will exist in the implementation of any new project.  The ability of the manager to mitigate, or eliminate, the fear of change will go a long way to ensure the success of the project.

How do you know there is a latent fear?  There are a variety of reasons that could cause employees to be reluctant to make a change.  You may get clear, direct signs such as outright resistance to implementation.  There may be arguments about whether this is the right solution to the problem.  There may even be a refusal to acknowledge there is a problem.  All of these signs could be masking an innate fear to make a change.

How does a manager reduce this fear of change?  There are three basic steps that will help a manager improve his chance of success in the new project.  The first step is to recognize that the fear of change exists among his subordinates in some form.  Accept this fact, it is true.

The second step is to identify the level and the breath of this apprehension.  This is a difficult step and there is a tendency to be self-delusional, or to accept the employees’ statements that they are 100% behind the project.  Identifying which employees are the most frightened and the source of their trepidation is a tricky thing.

With the fear of change recognized, an action plan can be developed to reduce the employees’ level of anxiety.  Identifying the most frightened employees and understanding the cause of their fear is critical to resolving this issue.  You can use a combination of employee surveys and interviews to help identify personnel and departments that are most frightful of the change.  This program could also help to measure the depth and causes of their apprehension.  It forms the basis of an action plan to reduce the level of fright.

The third step it to develop an action plan to reduce concerns.  By reducing their fear, employees will gain the confidence to help implement a new change.  Reducing apprehension will dramatically increase the chances of complete, on-time success.  Reducing employee fear will speed up the project implementation.  Project return on investment will have a better change of meeting, or exceeding, expectations.  Because of the importance of this need to bring employees on your side to make the change, you should consider utilizing consultants with change management experience to help develop your action plan.

The inevitable question is raised:  If you take the time to assess the level of fear and develop a remedial action plan, will you be delaying the completion of the project?  The answer to that question is negative.  By making employees more comfortable with the impending change, you are not only lowering their resistance to the change; you can expect to gain stronger support from them in the project.  Success will be measured in a shorter implementation time; reduced implementation costs; and a more complete implementation.

Doesn’t it make sense to reduce employee fear of change as you undertake a project?


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