Change is a constant in the business world, necessary for growth and adaptation to evolving market demands. Middle managers often find themselves at the forefront of implementing these changes, particularly during significant shifts like digital transformations. How they manage resistance to change can greatly influence the outcome. This article discusses approaches using the context of a company undergoing a digital transformation.

Imagine your company is undergoing a major digital transformation that requires all team members to adopt new software tools. Despite comprehensive training, several team members are resistant, clinging to old processes and openly criticising the changes.

❌ The Wrong Approach: Dismiss at your Peril

Conversely, there are several pitfalls that middle managers should avoid. One of the most detrimental actions is dismissing the concerns of team members as mere stubbornness. This can alienate employees and exacerbate their resistance. Equally harmful is threatening disciplinary action against those who do not adapt quickly to the changes. Such threats can increase anxiety and resistance, creating a hostile work environment.

These approaches fail to address the underlying issues of fear and discomfort that typically accompany new technologies and processes. They also ignore the potential insights that employees who are resistant might offer, insights that could lead to improvements in the implementation process itself.

✅ The Recommended Approach: Being and Feeling Heard

The most constructive approach to managing resistance involves proactive engagement and support. When team members are hesitant about adopting new software tools, it is crucial for managers to address these concerns directly. Organising feedback sessions is an effective strategy. These sessions should be genuine platforms where employees can voice their concerns and suggestions without fear of dismissal or retribution.

Acknowledging the challenges and providing personalised support can facilitate a smoother transition. For example, pairing resistant team members with “change champions” can be very beneficial. Change champions are colleagues who are adept at and enthusiastic about the new software. They can mentor their peers, helping them overcome fears and build confidence in using the new tools. This not only aids in the technical aspects of the transformation but also fosters a supportive community within the team, enhancing overall morale and collaboration.

🫤 Inaction: The fastest way to toxicity

Ignoring the resistance to change is perhaps the most dangerous approach. Inaction in the face of resistance can allow it to fester and grow, potentially derailing the entire transformation effort. The costs of inaction are not limited to immediate project delays and budget overruns; they can also lead to long-term consequences. These include reduced efficiency, loss of competitive edge, and a workforce that is increasingly disengaged and cynical about organisational initiatives.

Continued resistance without intervention can create a culture of stagnation where innovation is resisted rather than embraced, putting the company at a significant disadvantage in a fast-paced, technology-driven market.

Effectively managing resistance to change is critical for any organisation undergoing transformation. Middle managers play a key role in this process. By engaging in the right actions—actively listening, acknowledging concerns, and supporting team members—managers can facilitate a positive transition. Conversely, wrong actions or no action at all can lead to failure of the initiative and long-term negative impacts on the company culture. Managers must therefore be equipped not only with the tools for change but also with the skills to lead their teams through it empathetically and effectively.