Minimize Resistance and Manage Change

Of the companies that contact for a true team “building” event, the vast majority are looking for an activity to assist the team in managing change within their organization. This article has compiled some of the thoughts from James O’Toole, James Champy, Michael Hammer and Noel Tichy to address these very concerns.

With change, comes resistance. That’s simply Newtons Third Law of Energy and Inertia. Unless an external force acts upon us, we like to stay on the course we are headed. James O’Toole has come up with Thirty-Three Hypotheses for Why People Resist Change. I’m not going to list them all here, but if you want to check them out you can find them in his book Leading Change: The Argument for Value Based Leadership (pp.161-164). But here are 5 reasons that people tend to resist change:

Resistance Reason #1: Perceived Negative Outcome

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” Many times members of an organization don’t know the entire picture and see know reason for the change initiative. Change tends to involve the unknown which may illicit fear. It’s always deemed “safer” to simply stick with the status quo. The present situation may not be perfect but at least people know what to expect. With a change initiative, things may get better, but what if they get worse???

Resistance Reason #2: Fear of More Work

People fear that change within the organization will bring about change in their job description and this might mean more work for the employee. What new tasks will they be expected to do? What support or training will they get for these new responsibilities? What if they’re no good at their new job? How will their pay be effected?

Resistance Reason #3: Habits Must be Broken

Change frequently means altering the long standing habits of some employees. The longer a person has been with an organization the more difficulty he/she will probably have adjusting to change. We are all creatures of habit and the longer we have been in a routine, the more difficult it is to alter it. If micro-managing has been the culture of the company since the manager was hired, he/she may have great difficulty suddenly becoming comfortable with the idea of empowering his/her employees.

Resistance Reason #4: Lack of Communication

Frequently change is brought down upon an organization without explanation. The organization has not effectively communicated the what, why, and how of change. This can be ironic if the organization is introducing a new, company-wide, “team-based” approach! Employees want to know what the change will mean to them, their coworkers, and the organization. They are curious about alternatives and question whether this approach is the right direction for the company. The want to know what sacrifices might be involved and whether they’ll need to learn new skills or take on added responsibility. This lack of communication results in the employees coming up with their own answers, and given their state of fear, their answers are usually much worse than the reality.

Resistance Reason #5: Employee Rebellion

People don’t generally resist change as much as they resist the implications being forced upon them. People don’t mind change, but they don’t want to be changed. People want to feel that they are in control of their lives and if they believe that control is being taken away from them they will rebel.

So now that we understand why people may resist change, what approaches can we take to manage change and decrease the resistance?

Approach #1: Establish the Need for Change

Here is a popular formula for change:

C = A x B x D > X


C = the probability of change being successfulA = dissatisfaction with the status quoB = a clear statement of the desired end state after the changeD = concrete steps toward the goalX = the cost of change

(taken from F. Roberts Jacobs, Real Time Strategic Change (pp. 122-123)

This formula simply states that if you want people to change you have to (A) convince them that change is needed, (B) provide them with a vision of how change will improve the current situation, and (D) prove to them that you have an effective plan and roadmap for realizing productive change. And of course, it must all be proven that this change design will ultimately be cost effective.

But the most important component of them all is (A) convincing the organization that change isn’t just a pilot project but necessary. In order for change to succeed an organization must have the complete support of: virtually all the top executives, 75% of the managers, and the majority of the employees. But how is it possible to fully convince all of these people?

As previously stated, people won’t generally accept change unless they absolutely have to. You have to convince them that there are no other alternatives. Some of the methods of doing so may be considered somewhat extreme:

- Clean up the balance sheet to show the reality of ongoing losses
- Insist more of the members speak with unhappy, disgruntled customers and suppliers
- Eliminate obvious examples of excess within the organization
- Allow errors to explode rather than being fixed at the last moment
- Insist that more people at lower levels be held accountable for broader measures of business performance

Approach #2: Create a Clear, Compelling Vision that Shows People How Their Lives Will Improve

Management must present a vision to its employees that is grounded in reality. The vision must have meaning and it must be achievable. Visions that include slogans or buzz words are going to cut it. It must be apparent that the vision comes from the heart and success in realizing that vision will be supported by management.

Approach #3: Go For True Performance Goals and Create Early Wins

Rome wasn’t created in a day, but it was created. The daily motivation back in Roman times was simple; work hard today or die tonight! Fortunately we don’t work that way anymore, but we do need daily feedback to stay motivated. In any change initiative there should be benchmarks along the road to completion. Recognize and reward arrival at those benchmarks instead of waiting to celebrate at the very end of the project. Some initiatives may last for years and with projects of this magnitude it may be tough seeing that light at the very far end of the tunnel. By providing short term victories, evidence is provided that prove the sacrifices are worth it and they undermine those opposed to change. Change agents are rewarded and examples for the benefits of following the program are demonstrated. Momentum can thus be built by turning “neutrals” into change supporters.

Approach #4: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate…

John Kotter (Leading Change; Harvard Business School Press, 1996) states 7 Principles for Successfully Communicating a Vision:

1) Keep it Simple: use jargon free information disseminated to large groups
2) Use metaphors, analogies and examples
3) Use many different forums, and keep the same message
4) Repeat, repeat, repeat. Let the workers know there is commitment behind this concept and it’s not going to go away
5) Walk the talk or lead by example: All the top executives and managers must display that they are a part of this vision and not just the conductors of it.
6) Explicitly address seeming inconsistencies: if you can’t walk the talk in some instance, explain to employees why this inconsistency exists. If you can’t explain it see Principle #5 and ask yourself how badly you want this change.
7) Listen and be listened to. People will listen to you better if they believe they are being heard.

Approach #5: Build a Strong, Committed, Guiding Coalition That Includes Top Management

Another vehicle to assist in the dissemination of information is to create Change Coalitions that include representatives from every level of the organization. This will allow the executives to learn first hand about the fears or the employees, and allow the employees to see first hand and understand better the vision of the organization.

Approach #6: Keep It Complex, Stupid

If it were easy everybody would be doing it. In order for true change to be effective it needs to be complicated and on a grand scale. But this is where Approach #3 comes into play, break this large scale, reengineering process down into bite-sized goals and increments. Don’t be afraid to create and elaborate, long range vision, but be sure to create a road map that shows the marker, benchmarks and rewards along the way.

Approach #7: People Do Not Resist Their Own Ideas

Of course you don’t have to be a leadership guru to know that including people right from the beginning in the planning process helps build ownership of the plan from the ground up. But despite having this knowledge, this is one of the first mistakes organizations undertaking a change process make. When initiating change, consider Approach #5 when assembling task forces, process teams and work groups to get the ball rolling and acquire early buy-in from the masses.

resources for this article include:

Pasmore, William, Creating Strategic Change: Designing the Flexible High Performing Organization

O'Toole, James, Leading Change: The Argument for Values-Based Leaderhip

Kotter, John, Leading Change

Tichy, Noel, M. and Sherman, Stratford, Control Your Destiny or Someone Else Will

Champy, Reengineering Management

Boyett, Joseph and Boyett, Jimmy, The Guru Guide: The Best Ideas of the Top Management Thinkers

To purchase any of these great books or find other leadership related books simply click and search on the link below.