Watershed CI on Change Resistance

Change resistance is one of those endlessly thrown around terms used in the change management industry that makes change come off as if it’s something to be feared.

How can change resistance be addressed in a way that results in a positive outcome?

Steve Pinkus, Senior Consultant

Instead of thinking about people resisting change, we should be thinking about people honestly reacting to the change.

  • Everyone’s reactions are reasonable to themselves.
  • Very few people consciously make decisions to throw roadblocks into change initiatives in organizations.
  • Most people are merely reacting to their perception of how the change will be affecting them, negatively or positively.

The initial job is to listen without judgement. It doesn’t matter what we personally think about the change being imposed on people – our job is to:

  • Find out what everybody else thinks.
  • Understand why people think the way they do.
  • Lastly, address what appears to be resistance.

Sometimes people come up with reasonable issues that should be addressed, and might even positively impact the solution. Other times, the issues aren’t solvable and people will remain resistant.

You will never get everyone on board with a difficult and significant change. Focus on the majority of individuals who you can effectively move towards adopting the change, and leave that small percentage of resistors to make their own decisions on how they’ll proceed.

Gail Aller-Stead, Senior Consultant

It’s important to recognize that there will always be a segment of people who will not accept change. Manage your energy around them and focus elsewhere on moving things forward. Focus on strengthening that 15% critical mass (per Gareth Morgan).

“People support that which they help to create,” so leadership should try and provide the affected stakeholders with appropriate choices about what they can do related to the change, to the extent that’s possible

Sponsors play a critical role in managing resistance, work with the sponsors to ensure:

  • They themselves have both buy-in and stay-in over the longer term.

Sometimes sponsors, even those in very senior positions in the organization, aren’t as confident as they would like to be in their roles; do what you can to help set them up for success.

Understand the issues and impacts on stakeholders, including change fatigue and how change was handled in the past. Empathy and acknowledgment are important. Be honest, and acknowledge that some things may not be positive.

Clear communication is also needed:

  • What’s changing?
  • What’s not changing?
  • What do I have to do differently as a result of this change?

Andy Prince, President

Keep in mind that organizations themselves don’t resist change. It is, however, a fact that individuals will have a hard time with some change at work, and that can have a negative impact on their performance.

We should change the language on this issue and instead of ‘resist’ change, we should just tell it like it is:

  • Individuals can find it difficult to adapt to change.

What gets perceived as ‘organizational resistance’ to change is usually a leadership issue and is the manifestation of one or more influential leaders having their own challenges adapting to the change.

If they are unable to accept that a change is necessary or feel really uncomfortable with it, you can absolutely guarantee that will permeate through all levels of the organization – which then makes it appear that the organization is resisting change.

When looking at change from an organizational perspective, the focus needs to be on leadership alignment; it’s the single most important aspect. The approach to addressing needs in this area is uncomplicated, as John Kotter suggests:

  • Start at the top of the pyramid and build your coalition for change.
  • Work your way down the hierarchy.

Whilst the needs of frontline employees are still very important, they shouldn’t always be the immediate or main focus. Get the people at the top comfortable first, and they’ll be more willing and better able to share their comfort and acceptance of the change with their direct reports and so on.

WCI and Change

If you’re perceiving change resistance in your organization, contact WCI for a personalized solution.


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