If your managers think they know everything about resistance to change… they might well need to think again. In our 30+ years of Change Management Project Work, we’ve seen many implementation projects where leaders say they understand resistance is a natural part of the change process, but are still taken by surprise when they actually start to experience it. Especially if the leaders view the change as an upgrade or improvement!
Sound familiar? We’re betting it does. So we’ve compiled 10 important facts about resistance to change we discuss in our Accelerating Implementation Methodology (AIM) Change Management Training programs (where we also provide tactics on how to actually respond to each type!)
- Resistance is a function of disruption
Simply put, resistance to change is a function of the degree of disruption for those individuals who are impacted by the change. Because of this, it's important to be able to identify the level of potential disruption for each Target group impacted (including Sponsors, Change Agents and Targets). But remember, disruptions will be different for each group and each individual based on their Frame of Reference. You will also get different levels of resistance for each workstream in a transformational or enterprise-wide change Program because the impacts are different.
- Resistance will be greatest among groups of individuals who believe they are better personally served by the status quo
The AIM Change Management Methodology principle states, “You can expect the most resistance from those people with the highest ‘vested’ interest in things remaining the same.” For some individuals, the current culture has rewarded them personally in some way—more prestige, more power, more influence. The future state is an unknown quantity.
- The greatest resistance to a change is usually in the middle to upper levels of organizations, not at the "front-lines" of the change
It's often these individuals that have the most to "lose" in terms of power and prestige. This is more than just an interesting fact; it's highly problematic because these are the very people that you need as Reinforcing Sponsors of the change! That’s the conundrum of Sponsorship.
- Even when you are making a "positive change" you will encounter resistance
What's "positive" to one group is not necessarily positive to another. On a personal level, for example, some people view moving to a new house as a positive. Others find the disruption intense and react with lots of resistance. The on-going challenge is to understand all the multiple Frames of Reference.
- Resistance to change is cumulative
The frustrating truth is that the resistance you encounter today may be due to a change that failed several years ago, or resistance that worked in the past. In fact, you may find you are still dealing with resistance years after a project is supposedly complete! Whether leaders recognize it or not, the truth is …poorly managed implementations often have a long-term, residual impact.
- Not all resistance to change is bad
Resistance may actually be a sign of organizational health! In fact, innovation and resistance are two sides of the same coin. A sign of an “engaged” organization is an organization where people feel free to resist! So an innovative organization isn’t necessarily resistance-free; it’s actually full of resistance. Innovation is by its very definition a highly disruptive process, so you can anticipate lots of resistance. And that’s a good thing.
- If you don't see any resistance, don't assume it’s not there
If you assume just because you aren’t hearing or seeing resistance, it's not there, you are making a huge mistake! Often resistance is covert rather than overt, but it is still resistance! In fact, you should be more concerned when the resistance is underground because it’s very difficult to manage something you can’t see! The task of a Change Agent is to bring this resistance out into the open.
- You will get as much or more resistance from how a change is implemented as you will from the content
The "how" is as important as the "what." One of the values of the structured implementation approach like AIM is that it ensures the "how" is as consistent and comprehensive as required for risk mitigation and implementation success.
- Communication alone will never eliminate resistance
The assumption is that you just tell people about the change, and tell them more often, you will eliminate resistance. But the truth of the matter is you will never eliminate resistance by simply piling on logical and rational explanations for why the change will be good for people. Unfortunately, people aren’t motivated to adopt new cultures, systems and/or processes just because they are seen as "logical" from the 50,000 foot corporate perspective. While the fallback answer is often more communication, or more training, we know that neither alone will eliminate resistance!
- Managing resistance is not a one-time event
If resistance levels are in fact directly related to how disruptive the change is, it makes sense that the nature of the resistance and the amount of the resistance will vary as the disruption varies. This is why resistance management isn't as simple as just completing a checklist, and it needs to be an ongoing Change Agent activity throughout the project lifecycle, even after a project is launched or goes live.
If you are attempting to implement change, whether it is transformational in scope or a minor procedural adjustment, resistance is going to happen. It’s inevitable...someone, somewhere is going to let it be known they don’t like your project.
What’s important for your management to understand is you will never combat or overcome resistance to change. Sure, it's frustrating, but if you are looking to drive innovation or transformation into your organization, resistance is going to be part of the package. Which means now is the time to start thinking about how to manage it. Is this an “ah ha” moment for your management team?