4 Creating a Change Culture

Nabih Elteir

In the fast-changing 21st century, leaders are forced to do more with fewer resources. Creating change in any workplace is not a problem but resistance to change from employees is the problem. Change at work is a complex process that employees often dislike, as they feel more comfortable doing the job as it was always done.  The 21st-century leader believes that old ways won’t open new doors.  Therefore, leaders drive to a continuous change to increase productivity and improve workforce relationships that lead to success. To succeed with change, leaders at Fairview Health create an environment that accepts change and handles resistance well in the workplace.  For Fairview Health, progress is possible through a leadership that enables change.

Create a Change Culture

Fairview Health leaders continue to create a change culture in the organization that helps employees to absorb change. Fairview has developed a change culture due to the recent partnerships and mergers that the organization has acquired over the past years.  In 2017, Health East, a company of 7,500 employees, joined Fairview Health system’s 25,000 employees (Snowbeck, 2017, para. 7, 9).  Change culture is important as it helps employees to accept change quicker with less resistance.  Creating a change culture requires leaders to build strong relationships with employees, set change culture strategies that align well with the organization’s mission, and create change-enabling leaders through education and mentoring.

Building Relationships

When employees trust their leaders, they don’t resist change compared to times when employees don’t trust leadership.  The trust and confidence in leadership give leaders flexibility in forcing change, if needed.  The confidence that employees carry in leaders starts when leaders build strong relationships with their employees.  At Fairview Health, there are common activities that leaders do to gain followers’ trust and confidence at work, such as listening to employee’s thoughts and concerns about work or personal matters, constant communication about how to improve work conditions, and providing tools and resources to help employees succeed and perform well.  Additionally, Fairview closes gaps between senior leadership and frontline staff, treats followers fairly, and involves followers in the decision-making process.  All of these activities help leaders gain employee’s trust during transitions because confidence in leadership’s decisions decreases resistance.

Setting a Change Culture Strategy

Creating a change culture in an organization is a complex process that requires significant amount of time and training.  Before creating a change culture at any organization, leadership needs to make sure that that the change culture strategy will align well with the organization’s operations mission or purpose.  Pater (2015) writes that “Organizations, like children, continuously grow, but are they growing in the desired direction?” (p. 25).  Pater explains that the key for an effective leadership is to progress a company’s change culture in the same way wise parents’ guide their children.  It is important that when leaders create organizational strategic plans, they consider how these plans will align with promoting a change culture at work and how a change culture could affect the company’s mission.

Change-Enabling Leaders

When building a change culture at work, Fairview Health leaders create change-enabling teams that support change.  Before introducing change to employees, Fairview’s senior leaders make sure that the organization’s mid-level leaders and supervisors are supporting the change. McLagen (2002) says “be sure your managers and supervisors actively support the change. When supervisors personally use the change practices taught in training, employees are more likely to also use the new practices” (p. 54).  To gain employees’ support, leaders direct followers on what they need to do to support change.  With several recent partnerships and mergers, Fairview Health has been through strategic changes in efforts to reduce expenses and increase margins.  The organization’s leaders enact change through removing barriers, listening to all thoughts, and making sure employees’ voices are heard.

Handle Resistance Well

The second way to succeed in change is handling resistance well from employees.  Change leaders must be able to put themselves in other people’s shoes and use patience to handle the employees’ resistance.  The four common reasons that cause resistance at any workplace are differences in employee’s opinions, employees seeing no need for change, leaders introducing change poorly, and change affecting employee’s performance negatively.

Thinking Preferences

Employees have different opinions when change is introduced. Goodwin (2016) divides people’s thinking preferences into four categories “analytical, sequential, imaginative and interpersonal” (p. 19).  At times of change, analytical thinkers want to know the purpose of change, action-oriented doers want to know what the new expectations are, energizers want to see how the change fit in the big picture, and socially-oriented connectors want to maintain the group norms during change.  The best way to handle this resistance is by trying different hats that align well with the employee’s thinking preference.

No Need for Change

Employees sometimes see no need for change.  If a follower is performing well or the company is making a good margin, why change?  There will always be one person on any team that doesn’t like change or doesn’t see the big picture behind a change.  Successful leaders handle this kind of resistance with patience and listening to employees.  At Fairview Health, when leaders identify employee’s concerns, leaders manage conflict by stepping in quickly to find solutions and explaining the big picture.  Fairview Health leaders believe that good communication and collaboration between leaders and employees lead to success.  It is the leader’s job to provide the tools that help employees during times of change to continue the success.  This kind of resistance happens very often in big corporations when senior leadership uses new strategic plans that cause resistance from front-line staff.  Front-line employees normally see that there is no need for change, which leaves the mid-level managers and supervisors challenged as they try to close the gaps.

Introducing Change Poorly

The most important phase of change at the workplace is the introduction.  Employees may resist or start feeling uncomfortable when leaders introduce change.  The best way to manage this kind of resistance for a leader is to be prepared for any setbacks or concerns from the employees.  When introducing a new change to the team, Fairview Health’s leaders present change in a way that doesn’t make employees uncomfortable or feel threatened.  Leaders listen to employees and get them involved in the decision-making process before sharing a change.  When leaders introduce change to employees poorly, they start to feel disengaged and leaders begin to lose follower’s trust, which results in poor outcomes.

Employee Performance

The first thing that comes to an employee’s mind when leaders are introducing change plans is how the change is going to affect an individual’s performance.  If the employee feels that change will improve performance, they won’t resist and will be excited about a change.  However, this doesn’t happen most of the time because even if a change is going to improve an employee’s performance, most of the time they don’t see it happening.  Therefore, employees resist change when it is introduced.  The best way to handle this kind of resistance is to provide all of the necessary tools and resources to employees to keep performance high in times of change.

To put it all together, creating a successful change culture and handling resistance well are key factors to a successful change leadership.  When organizations create a change culture, employees’ resistance will decrease.  Poor communication, the threat of losing jobs, fear of the unknown, and low confidence in leadership causes resistance from followers.  When creating a change culture, leaders must create strong communication bridges and build effective relationships with their employees to gain trust and increase confidence.  By doing so, resistance will be minimized and progress will be a possibility.


Goodwin, B. (2016). Facing resistance? Try a new hat. Educational Leadership, 73. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/jun16/vol73/num09/Facing-Resistance%C2%A2-Try-a-New-Hat.aspx

McLagen, P. (2002). Success with change. T + D, 56(12). Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ658624

Pater, R. (2015, September). Advanced culture change leadership. Professional Safety, 60(9). Retrieved from https://movesmart.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Advanced-Culture-Change-Leadership-Professional-Safety-American-Society-of-Safety-Engineers.pdf

Snowbeck, C. (2017, May 16). Boards approve Fairview-HealthEast merger. Star Tribune. Retrieved from http://www.startribune.com/boards-approve-fairview-healtheast-merger/422603054/


Change: A Leader's Perspective Copyright © 2017 by Nabih Elteir. All Rights Reserved.

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