Change Management in the Public Sector: 4 Tips for Managing Resistance to Change

Digital transformation is an important factor of growth and efficiency within an organisation. However, it’s not a walk in the park. Change can sometimes be a process that isn’t universally welcomed which can cause inefficiency and a lack of cohesion between employees or departments. This means it’s crucial that a change management process is put in place. 

Here’s how to go about managing resistance to change in an organisation.

  1. Expect Resistance in Any Change
  2. Identify the Causes of Resistance
  3. Formally Address Any Resistance
  4. Get Change Management Right

1. Expect Resistance in Any Change

Naturally, any change can be met with resistance which can come from anywhere in an organisation. Change entails there will be a different environment tomorrow which can negatively affect people and even cause anxiety or stress. 

To initially mitigate resistance, spend time before implementing a project looking at the most likely causes of resistance. Is there anything you can do to get that group on board quickly? If you can, develop quick resolutions to any likely problems or individual issues that may cause friction later on. 

For example, early causes of resistance may be:

  • People invested in the current way of working, through time, familiarity or reward.
  • Employees who believe they’ll have it harder under new circumstances.
  • Those who prefer a different resolution to the one implemented.
  • Or those who believe the change won’t benefit them in any way.

By targeting these groups early on, you can try to mitigate any likely resistance and improve the overall process.

2. Identify the Causes of Resistance

Focusing on the symptoms of any problem is pointless if you also aren’t looking at how to provide a solution to the root causes. Symptoms are overtly obvious - complaints, inefficiency, lack of collaboration etc. It’s not a good use of time to try and prevent these sole issues.

The causes of resistance are deeper-rooted problems. They’re the reasons for the resistance, not how that resistance is manifested. There are several common root causes, such as:

  • Fear of company restructuring and job losses.
  • Lack of support from management.
  • Any past performance-related to big change.
  • Lack of understanding in regards to the transformation.
  • Impact on current roles and responsibilities.

Similar to the previous point, the cases to resolve these issues can be generally developed early on. The case for each must be compelling, carefully-proposed and show care for concerned employees.

For example, with ‘Lack of understanding in regards to the transformation.’ we can discuss how to get employees on side in terms of understanding digital solutions as the best options for solving public service issues. You need to educate your workforce on why new technology is needed.

Technology can be framed as the way the public services are brought into the 21st century, creating a better, more integrated working environment for employees and decreasing the friction between those services and the public themselves.

While resistance can manifest in many group actions, it’s usually inspired by individual feelings. Everyone’s concerns will be unique so the best way to address these issues is to provide one-to-one meetings. Personal conversations can provide support early on which can help to mitigate any bad feelings. 

3. Formally Address Any Resistance

The best change management process is never solely reactive, it’s mostly proactive in nature. Initially, we need to generate any likely causes of resistance and produce tactics to manage them. 

An organisation should also look at ways they can move employees through the change process with the least amount of friction.These are the questions you should ask at each stage - what likely barriers may appear? How can you overcome them?

An initial barrier to digital transformation is funding. This is a big problem for public sector organisations and so before any change occurs, you need to delve into any possible solutions for initial resistance like this.

Finally, to reinforce change, we need to improve upon it. Collecting feedback is a rewarding way of improving both the change itself and change management. Through this feedback, you can determine just how successful the adoption and compliance of the transformation have been, helping to identify any gaps in your change management efforts.

By formally addressing resistance in this way, employees are less likely to take issue with management as you’re listening to their concerns. A lot of managing resistance to change in an organisation is affected by the environment of respect we can cultivate across the working community. 

4. Get Change Management Right

Overall, you can reduce resistance if change management is employed before any change is actualised. When used effectively, it’s not just a method of managing change but also a method of increasing employee and colleague engagement in a project. 

It leverages the issues people may have by solving them, improving the chance of project success and creating a more collaborative working environment. You can utilise the following steps to ensure the success of your change management:

  • Engage senior management as active sponsors.
  • Engage middle management as advocates.
  • Create and implement a structure change management from the beginning.
  • Help employees to understand the need for change and prepare responses for questions or concerns.

Each of these tactics can enable your change management process to be more successful, which means any digital or cultural transformation employed is more likely to be so too. This can also affect the success rates of further projects in the future. 

Keeping employees on board is a large part of any organisation’s cultural transformation but it’s not an easy thing to get right on the first attempt. Cultural transformation takes skill. If you’re looking to transform your organisation, you can find the help you need in our guide. 

Download the Cultural Transformation Roadmap

Our Cultural Transformation Roadmap will give you a well-rounded view of cultural transformation. It delves into best practices, how to engage your employees and keep them on board, as well as providing expert insight into the process.

To capitalise on all of this knowledge for your organisation, click the link below.

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