Got Resistance? Don Harrison Answers Your Questions on Resistance to Change

Posted by Paula Alsher on Thu, Aug 06, 2015 @ 11:57 AM

One of the most frustrating aspects of implementing change projects is that there is always resistance! IMA recently asked Don Harrison to answer the five common questions we get about what clients can do to better handle resistance to change. Don is the principal designer of the Accelerating Implementation Methodology (AIM) and has 35 years of experience consulting to senior executives at multi-national corporations, entrepreneurial ventures and government agencies around the world. He’s seen all kinds of resistance in his own change management consulting work. Don Harrison and Resistance

Below are a few of his tips, tactics and strategies:

What do you do when Senior Leaders are the source of the resistance?

One of the fundamental principles of AIM is to expect the highest level of resistance from the people that have the greatest motivation for things to remain the same. More often than not, this is going to be mid-to upper-level managers, because in the end, they are the ones who have the most to lose in terms of current and future power and prestige.  

It is critical to treat every level of the organization, from the senior leadership down, as Targets first.   There is absolutely no point in trying to create readiness at the lower levels of the organization if the people in power are resisting the change. Instead, readiness needs to be cascaded through the organization level by level.


How do you combat the statement, “We tried this years ago and it didn’t work”?

This is just another form of resistance that needs to be managed. One of the most powerful ground rules of managing resistance is to use involvement to give people a sense of control. In other words, if you can’t get people involved in deciding what to change, get them involved in how to change it.

In this example, find out from the Frame of Reference of the person who made the comment why it didn’t work the last time.   Then, try enlisting that person to help make it work this time. You could ask, “What do you think happened the last time?” After listening to the response, try saying, “If we want it to work this time, what can you and I do differently?”   Remember that working from the Target’s Frame of Reference is crucial. Don’t ask, “What can I do to make it different this time?”, but rather; “What can YOU do to make it different?”


Are there specific ways to identify levels of disruption in order to better predict resistance?

Absolutely! There are various methods to diagnostically measure the level of disruption from the Frame of Reference of each Target. The easiest (and most often overlooked) technique is simply asking questions and then listening to the answers. Radical, right!?! Other methods include (but are not limited to):

  • Focus groups
  • Surveys
  • Team Meetings
  • Q&A Sheets
  • Hot Lines

No matter what technique you use, make sure you are thinking from the Frame of Reference of the Target.   Also remember that no communication should go out without a feedback loop attached to it. It’s a simple, but excellent way to gather information.


What do you do when the resistance is coming from within the Project Team?

This is a critical issue that must be addressed quickly. If the resistance is coming from the Project Team, there is no doubt it will spread to the rest of the organization. Every Project Team approach must include structural and process measures within it to manage resistance. For example, at every Project Team meeting, it is imperative to check in with every team member in an attempt to surface resistance. Go around the room and ask, “What are your struggles?”  “What are your frustrations?” And most importantly, “What can we do together to offset or manage these issues?”


How do you deal with resistance in Contractors?

This can be a very sticky situation. The only real leverage you have in this case is your intellectual capacity to convince Contractors to change, or your manipulation of the contract to get them to change.   In most cases, the problem is that contracts are only evaluated on an annual basis, which is way too infrequent to affect a change in behavior. Thus, the real power leverage you have with Contractors is informal reinforcement.  

Managers will need to radically rethink their reinforcement methods. While they may not have access to the contract, what they do have control over is every day informal reinforcements such as scheduling, access to equipment, control over work environments etc. When you change the reinforcements, you’ll see behavior change.


It’s worth repeating: you will never eliminate resistance! It’s a function of the level of disruption of your change. Left unmanaged, resistance will slow you down, or even stall out your change. So you can’t afford to ignore it!

Free eBook:  How to Manage Resistance to Change

Topics: Resistance to change