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The Stress of 
Resisting Change:

A Leader’s Guide to turn Resistance into Acceptance



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Lean Manufacturing is revolutionizing the culture and the attitudes of the global business world.  The evolution of the Kaizen process and technology is breathing new life into troubled companies, streamlining service organizations, and bringing the thinking of continuous process improvements to top-level management everywhere on earth. 

Even though the commitment to “go lean” is an exciting and dynamic system to adopt and implement, this change (like any change) brings tremendous stress to the management and employees of the organizations undergoing this modern approach to improvement.  Lean manufacturing implementation is complex, slow, variable, and on-going – all elements which produce stress (good and bad) for the people involved in this process.

Good leaders are aware of the negative results of stress – overload, burn-out, fatigue – in both themselves and their teams.  Resistance to change is detrimental.  Adapting and accepting change is positive and productive. 

At the first inkling of a major change coming to an organization, employees’ stress begins to escalate.  Rumors start because little information is available.  Top management probably has not confirmed the change strategy but the fact that an organizational change is the topic of upper-level management meetings will filter its way through the ranks.  Speculation could be high, especially if there is a large time span (weeks, months) before the announcement of the specific organizational change. 

Managers' Role

Management needs to deal with this pre-announcement stress by education and training, not secrecy.  Reassurances should be made to the employees as to job security, the continuance of the company, and that the change is for the overall good of the organization.  If the rumors are not stopped or suppressed, the announcement of the change will meet a great deal of resistance from the very beginning.  This resistance will be a mountain of opposition to overcome as it will be full of employees’ and customers’ negative attitudes and fears.  Top management must give much thought and consideration to how the “people” issues will be handled and the process of incremental steps of information dispersal. 

Team leaders are usually in the position of being informed of upper-level strategy and yet not allowed to divulge the full plan.  It is their difficult job of not being able to give all the details to their teams and yet answer their employees’ questions fully.  The stress is insidious for team members, team leaders, and management.  Each person needs to find ways to handle his/her stress and strive to maintain a high efficiency.

After the organization change announcement of “going lean,” education and training begins in earnest.  These are the two key elements in overcoming resistance and fear.  Stress levels are high as new demands, procedures, and processes are devised. 

The Good Leaders

Proactive leaders (because they know people issues are critical) have informed themselves of the mechanics of stress, how to deal with it personally, and how to educate their team members into turning “bad” stress into “good” stress. 

  • Good leaders are able to model positive attitudes.   
  • Good leaders can see a resistant employee’s behavior and understand the situation.  
  • Good leaders take steps to consul and coach.   
  • Good leaders encourage adaptive attitudes.


    How to identify negative stress signs... 

    Leaders are always on the look-out for indications of stress with their team members.  Here’s a partial list of “bad” stress signs: 

    • Negative attitude – the cup is half empty syndrome

    • Feeling of being overwhelmed
    • Overall lack of enthusiasm
    • Tired, run-down over a long period of time (weeks,  months)
    • Signs of “burn-out”
    • Recurring health problems
    • Hinting at looking for another job
    • Challenging authority
    • Constant conflicts with others
    • Very vocal or very quiet

    • L ittle or no participation in team meetings

    • Not willing to volunteer for projects

    • Low creativity

    • Frequent tardiness or absenteeism

    • Avoids talking to you or doesn’t make eye contact

    • Unwilling to learn new processes or procedures

    • Increased use of alcohol or tobacco

    • Fear of losing control

    • Inability to relax, concentrate or sleep


      “Leaders have:
       the Serenity to Accept the Things they Cannot Change… 
      Courage to Change the Things they Can… 
      And the Wisdom to Know the Difference.”

      Submitting to the inevitable is difficult…no one wants to be a “quitter.”  However, submission is often empowering.  Submitting to change, rather than resisting, means taking that negative energy and transforming it into the advantage of strength. 

  • By not taking control of stress:

    As a leader, by taking control of stress:

    You find someone to blame.

    You see change as an enemy.

    You feel helpless.

    You feel trapped.

    You control managing the pressure.

    You see “change” as a friend.

    You realize the organization’s need to improve.

    You embrace a positive attitude.


    The world constantly revolves and evolves whether we acknowledge these changes or not.  By accepting the fact of change as a way life, leaders can relax and acknowledge that change is as natural as sunrise and sunset.  Leaders model this attitude and behavior, knowing that others emulate good leaders.

    By not going with the flow:

    As a leader, by going with the flow:

    You struggle emotionally and waste energy.

    You make mistakes, causing more stress.

    You fight a lost cause.

    You stay on the sidelines and avoid being in the game.

    You adjust quickly to a changing environment.

    You align yourself with the organization.

    You make choices and decisions confidently.

    You enjoy the support of others who are going with the flow.


    Remember:  Playing the new game with old rules is a futile effort.  Look at each situation and analyze how the priorities have changed.  Focus on your effectiveness – how have your responsibilities changed? 

    By not playing by the new rules:

    As a leader, by playing by the new rules:

    You work harder using the old rules.

    You go by the attitude of “that’s how it was always done”

    You do not make the necessary adjustments for change.

    You ignore new expectations of your job performance evaluation.

    You try to stay in your “comfort zone.”

    You avoid new opportunities.

    You know your job now requires new work habits and mindset.

    You are open to new opportunities to implement change.

    You develop new routines

    You keep up with the organization’s rate of change.

    You are prepared for surprises.

    You expect some chaos when change is rapid and unfamiliar.


    Companies who have the courage to change will be stressful.  The atmosphere is dynamic and at times, chaotic.  Leaders recognize that companies who fail to change will fail completely and likely go out of business.  Going through the pains and difficulties of change and improvement is ultimately in everyone’s best interest as it means survival in this global economy. 

    By not experiencing a changing organization:

    As a leader, by experiencing a changing organization:

    You are less pressured to perform at a high level.

    You are more likely to lose your job when the company downsizes or goes out of business.

    You know your company is ready for the future.

    You know the price is high and the results of success enormous.

    You do research and outside reading to keep up-to-date.

    You adapt a philosophy of flexibility.


    Many of our worries today are things over which we have absolutely no control.  One of the first questions a leader will ask when worrying about something at 3 a.m. is:  How much control, if any, do I have over this?  Usually, it’s little or no influence on the situation.  If the situation is one we’re able to make a decision about, then do it and move on.  If not, forget about it. 

    By trying to control the uncontrollable:

    As a leader, by not trying to control everything:

    You keep trying to undo things that can’t be undone – wasting time and energy. 

    You suffer high frustration and higher stress.

    You feel like you’re losing control when in fact you have none.

    You adapt to new situations instead of making the situation adapt to you.

    You accept the reality of the situation.

    You spend your time and energy on important, controllable matters.

    You know what you can change and what you can’t.

    You control your future.


    So you feel you’re facing the reality of change and you’re ready.  Good!  Now it’s important to stay with the pace of the improvements, even a little ahead of the changes, if possible. 

    By not staying with the rate of change:

    As a leader, by accepting the rate of change:

    You are holding up everyone else.

    You are, in fact, resisting change even if your intent is acceptance.

    You create tension between yourself and the organization.

    You’re too cautious and slow down your productivity.

    You keep up with the latest developments.

    You model a good attitude and work ethic.

    You help others “catch up” so the entire company is on the same page.

    You strive to maximize your personal productivity and effectiveness.


    Lean Manufacturing means your job will change along with other employees.  You must recreate your job and your priorities.  You must get rid of the old job duties that are not important and that have been eliminated.  Let go and be sure your job is also “value added” and relevant to the company’s improvement process.   

    By not keeping up with your changing workload:

    As a Leader, by keeping up with your changing workload:

    You are not serving your customers.

    You make more work for your team mates as they pick up your slack.

    You hang on to old habits and priorities .

    You fail to do the right thing.  

    You eliminate unnecessary steps and activities.

    You expect an ever-changing workload.

    You know management expectations have changed to higher standards.

    You feel committed to your job and your company.

    You focus on doing things right.

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    Stress cannot be eliminated.  Strive for a lifestyle with good stress: watching your son play quarterback at school; learning a new language; buying a new house.

    For your good health, know the difference between good stress and bad stress.  Most of us know the basics of daily stress control: exercise, relaxation, positive attitude, fun, plenty of sleep, etc. 

    As a leader, you are in control of your stress and manage it.  No one else can do this for you.  When you accept the responsibility of taking care of yourself, then you can educate and support others to cope with theirs.  It’s to the advantage of the organization that you, as a leader, include this vital job as part of your on-going responsibilities.

    Diana Mora  has spent many years in the training and development areas in the Health Insurance Industry. Her experience has included: B.S. degree in Business Management, Hands-On process improvement through the Deming Principles and extensive experience as Supervisor of Trainers and Customer Service Representatives.

    Also, you are invited to read:
    Leaders Wanted, Bosses Not Needed    by Bob Schultz

If you find all this free information useful, just imagine how much your operation will improve when we can work together one on one!

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Enrique Mora
Lean Management Training
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This page last updated on

30 July, 2011 10:15









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