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Why Managers Fear Change, and How We Limit our Success by Avoiding It



Everyone fears change to some degree. There’s a psychological reason why the thought of shaking things up at work makes us nervous, and why we’re uncomfortable transitioning to new systems. Psychologist and researcher Heidi Grant Halvorson, PhD, explains that humans are wired to avoid change.

Fear of Change Hurts Us

But fear of change hurts us, because the world is changing. Consumers have access to new technologies. B2B buyers have choices they didn’t used to have. People are evolving and adapting their buying habits. They take advantage of voicemail and caller ID, and their eyes have become trained to focus only on what they have to. They’re listening to what their peers have to say about their business challenges (and about the companies who sell solutions to those challenges) on social media.

If we stay stuck in “the way we’ve always done things” then we’ll continue using strategies and systems that no longer work. We’ll miss opportunities for growth. In “When Growth Stalls” Steve McKee noted that 41.2% of nearly 5,700 companies he studied stalled in the previous decade. When we get stuck, we stagnate.

How We Can Break Free

So how can we break free from this fear of change that keeps us locked down and unsuccessful? Here are a few ideas.

  • Recognize fear for what it is. The biggest hurdle to overcoming fear is failing to see it for what it is. Fear is a physiological response that’s designed to keep us out of trouble, but it has limited intelligence. Our minds don’t naturally take time to process fear responses. We just think, “Oh, this is uncomfortable. I’m getting out of here.” Stop and consider the consequences of listening to your fear when you feel it.

  • Analyze risks, prepare for them, and then get brave. Yes, you need to analyze the risks of any action you’re thinking of taking. Write them down. Think through all the angles. Come up with a plan to mitigate any potentially negative outcomes. Then get brave, knowing you’re prepared, and go for it.

  • Have a plan for getting buy-in. Managers are in a position of having to sell both team members and C-level executives on ideas. Realize that these people are just as afraid of change as you are, and develop a plan to help them overcome those fears as well. For fellow team-members, focus on how you’re planning to ease the transition. Communicate the benefits of the change to them personally. For higher-level executives, be ready to address concerns with stats, case studies, examples, and other cold, hard data. Understand what they care about and tackle those issues.

Change is the territory of successful managers. No one ever made progress staying where they are. If you can overcome your own fears and help others in your organization overcome theirs, then you’ll be on the road to making significant achievements.

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