Transformational Change: Can You Ignore Resistance?

Posted by Paula Alsher on Thu, Feb 20, 2014 @ 09:00 AM

So many organizations are investing in some level of business transformation--healthcare transformation, HR transformation, IT transformation, one company solutions.  These are complex changes that have many moving parts, just from the technical implementation perspective.  Can you Ignore Resistance?

You can't ignore the human side of these changes.  Even when these transformations are a business necessity, there is resistance to change.  Yet our change management consultants are continually confronted by resistance at the very senior levels.  These leaders choose to ignore the resistance to change rather than invest in equipping the organization with the tactics and strategies to manage resistance.


Resistance to Change is Cumulative

While that may be tempting, the end result is predictable.  Your transformation will slow down, or you won't achieve sustained adoption.  You can find that you are still dealing with resistance years after the projects are supposedly complete!

And when that happens, the resistance carries over to current changes, that also slow down or even fail. There is a cumulative effect.

Whether your leaders recognize it or not, the organization is learning lessons.  For example, the lesson may be that "If I resist this change and continue to do my job as I have always done it, this change will go away." It's what we call the "kidney stone theory of change"-- this too will pass!  

If you are a Change Agent assigned to a transformational change project, and you are faced with leaders who don't see the value of managing resistance to change, what can you do?


Change Agent Tips 

1.  Gather data around Readiness for Change.  If you are going to go to leaders, you will likely get more attention if you have supporting data.  

You can use the Individual Readiness Assessment tool to gather different perspectives (what we call Frames of Reference) on where there is resistance.  Have Sponsors, Change Agents, and/or Targets complete the assessment (it is quick and can be done over the web) and compare different results.

2.  Speak in "Sponsor Talk" not "Change Management Talk."

When you are speaking to your leaders about resistance, use business language as much as possible.  That means focus on how the resistance will slow down the implementation or get in the way of getting it done better, or at the level of quality that is required.  In our change management consulting experience, it's best to stay away from even talking about "change management!"

3.  Develop an Involvement Strategy.

Since resistance is directly lnked to the level of disruption the change is creating, the more you can give people a sense of control, the more you are able to manage the resistance.  One of the most effective strategies is give Targets some involvement in how the change is implemented in their area.  

For example, one of our clients is in the midst of a 5 year transformational change program that will fundamentally change the way the business operates.  Our change management consultant has been heavily involved in change readiness activities-- and has instituted a task force from several areas of the organization to propose a "menu of reinforcements" that will be meaningful for Targets.

This is a great way to get Targets involved in implementation and to offer implementation-specific reinforcements that will be meaningful to Targets.  

4.  Be prepared to manage resistance from mid-to-upper level leaders.

While you may face resistance to the transformation at lower levels, you need to manage resistance at higher levels of the organizational food chain as well.  Don't assume that your leadership team will manage resistance in others when they may be the most resistant of all.

This is one of the great paradoxes of organizational change-- you need these individuals to be active Sponsors who are demonstrating commitment to the change, yet they are the very ones who are most resistant!  And when these leaders are resistant, you face "black holes" where the change fails to get cascaded.

This is why executives also need to be Expressing, Modeling, and Reinforcing commitment with their own direct reports!  

5.  Provide leaders with strategies and tactics to manage resistance.  

Your management team needs to be equipped to manage resistance with their own teams. Provide training that is linked directly to the transformation project on "what to say when." Here are a few examples from our Introduction to AIM training program:

Resistance:  You've explained things two or three times to the Target and they still don't get it.

Response:  "You seem pretty confused by our discussion.  Is it the 'what' or the 'how' that's confusing to you?

Resistance:  The Target is concerned with feasibility, timing, the need, or the priorities.

Response:  You seem quite concerned about the practicality and the value of the change. Tell me why."

Leaders will often assume that the correct, logical explanation will eliminate resistance to the transformation. Unfortunately it just isn't that simple!

Free eBook:  How to Manage Resistance to Change

Topics: Transformational Change, Change Agents, Resistance to change, Change Management Consulting