How to Transform Resistance into Execution with Employee Engagement

SGEi • September 10, 2020

“Some people dream of success, while other people get up every morning and make it happen.” —Wayne Huizenga, entrepreneur

Often, even our most well-thought-out action plans are met with resistance at first. However, it’s our job as leaders to meet people where they are and engage. When you set out each day to engage with the people who matter the most—those whom you rely on to execute your game plan—it’s incredible how much you and your team can accomplish together.

Undoubtedly, you’ve spent time, effort, and energy devising tactical action plans and processes for your employees to follow. Yet, some people still resist the change you’ve put into play, or they simply fail to execute consistently.

This blog will help you understand where the resistance may be coming from and how to turn opposition into levels of execution you envisioned when you built your action plans in the first place.

Barriers to Execution: Why the Right Time Is Now
Donald McGannon stated, “Leadership is action, not position.” One of the biggest excuses you hear from business leaders is that they are waiting for the right time. What is the right time? There are always going to be staffing issues, it is always going to be too busy, and there will always be excuses.

If we waited for a perfect world, we would be waiting forever. We can always find excuses for not doing something, but true leaders will always find an excuse to do something. Don’t procrastinate, put things off, or wait for the right time—we are in a business where there will never be the right time.

Leaders who are not achieving the desired results are not truly leading. Managers get too caught up in all the things that could go wrong. By trying to account for every possible outcome, they end up doing nothing at all. And, when employees resist change, it stops leaders from executing their plan. While the employees were involved in the planning process, when it comes to executing, they decide to resist.

Motivating Employees to Act
The first step in turning resistance into execution is to understand the root causes of the opposition. Low confidence, negative attitudes, bad habits, and a nonexistent relationship between the employee and leader are some of the most common reasons employees fail to act.

The task of any strategic leader is to build confidence among employees and key stakeholders. Confidence is a powerful thing that propels people into action in the face of adversity, doubt, or fear. Here’s how to build confidence out on your front lines:
• Get quick wins
• Celebrate successes; recognize and reward those employees who exemplify the change
• Engage in ongoing communication
• Set the example for the change and learning required

Get Quick Wins
As Charles Duhigg wrote in The Power of Habit, achieving short-term wins does wonders for the psyche of any group of people amid a change effort: “A huge body of research has shown that small wins have enormous power…Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach.”

Celebrate Successes
You and I like to be noticed, known, and celebrated for our hard work—as do the people on our teams, out on the front lines. Even people who resist change or shy away from accepting your coaching or guidance need and want to be celebrated.

Recognizing the people who exemplify the change you want to see and those who execute every single day will slowly but surely attract your resisters to join your cause. The more you celebrate successes, the more airtime you give your story, the story of where you’re taking the team, and how great it will be when you reach the promised land together.

Ongoing Communication
Speaking of storytelling, the leader needs to communicate (via multiple channels and platforms) so that people understand the process and are updated on the progress.

Employees must also see the possibilities and positive outcomes as a result of the change process. The more leaders engage, the more consistent the execution. As Francis Hodgson, and English writer, once noted: “At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, and then they begin to hope it can be done, then they see it can be done, then it is done, and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago.”

Lead by Example
Successful change leaders lead by example, embodying the very behaviors and values they set out to inspire. If they communicate why change is needed, they also need to walk their talk and represent the change they champion.

Bringing It All Together
Here are four action steps you can do today to turn even your most passionate resisters of change into your most consistent executors of your action plans and processes:
1. Identify two short-term wins that are achievable in the next 30 to 45 days. These are “wins” you’ll be able to showcase and leverage to all key stakeholders (even your resisters). You’ll be able to prove progress is being made.
2. Plan a celebration that recognizes and rewards (and showcases) employees who embody the values and traits you’d like to see in everyone else. Recognize them for being the change you want to see and for executing the action plans you’ve given them.
3. Engage. Carve out time each day to walk and talk with employees. Tell the story of what has been accomplished and how the momentum is propelling the team toward a much better future you’re creating together.
4. Lead by example. Walk your talk. Marshall Goldsmith, a leadership coach, once articulated this idea perfectly: “One of the most important actions, things a leader can do, is to lead by example. If you want everyone else to be passionate, committed, dedicated, and motivated, you go first!”

You have the power and opportunity to make the change you desire a reality. Even the most stubborn resisters can turn that opposition into execution, as long as you follow the tips we outlined. Thanks for reading, and please reach out to us if you’d like more ideas or insights about how you can use employee engagement to transform resistance into execution.

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