Surrounded by idiots – when employees become resistance fighters

In the April 2017 issue of brandeins , Erik Nagel, Professor of Organization at Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts, talks about employee resistance: "When board members encounter resistance – for example, employees who openly rebel or subtly refuse – they often interpret it as meaning that these people have not understood what is good for them. This is based on conviction: they have to obey."

How can managers deal with employee or customer resistance that arises as a result of the complex and comprehensive changes within the framework of digitization? Or even prevent this headwind in the first place?

On the one hand, more empathy is needed at the managerial level, i.e. the ability to put oneself in the shoes of others, the employees, in order to be able to react appropriately. Above all, however, it requires a different perception, a transformation of the inside, in order to be able to interpret the signs correctly. Not to be annoyed by resistance, but to see it as a warning light and to take a closer look at what it takes to make the project (again) work. In a car, nobody removes the wiring of the dashboard just because the fuel gauge glows so annoyingly.

Rather, to interpret employee resistance as a sign that staff have apparently not yet understood the necessity of change and that they are presumably afraid of the unknown. People tend to form negative fantasies about the effects of change. Employees can only be lured out of their comfort zone if they see benefits and are confident enough to be able to jump over the barrier. A common vision and sensemaking are needed here. And this requires a lot of analog conversations, especially in digital times. So although managers are responsible for whether or not resistance exists within a company, the good news is that they also have influence and are not in fact "surrounded by idiots".