Dealing with resistance to change involves looking deeply at the sources and causes of resistance.
To a very large extent, resistance to change is the default setting for adult behaviour, and frequently the level of resistance increases in direct proportion to life and work experience – and for very good reasons – “We’ve seen it all before!”
The best way of dealing with resistance is not to have to! If you have planned thoroughly and addressed all of the key areas in successfully leading and managing change, you will have removed many totally unnecessary and predictable causes and sources of resistance. You will also now understand where and why resistance remains.
Sources of resistance
The 2 fundamental sources of resistance are fear and aspiration.
(1) Fear of change is a necessary and integral protective aspect of our survival mechanism. Very often we are right to be fearful of the potential consequences of a change and especially of an imposed change – and as it really may be detrimental to our best interests and survival in our current environment.
(2) “Aspirational resistance” is all about WIFM – “what’s in it for me” – and until we can see how a change is going to affect us and what the nature of the impact of that change will be in terms of: “Is it good for me or bad for me?” we will resist it.
Causes of resistance to change
In an organisational context, the biggest causes of resistance to change are the behaviour and attitudes of the leaders introducing the change and the managers seeking to implement it.
Specifically this all reduces to their failure to take full account of the impacts of the change, and especially upon those people who will be most impacted by the change.
Background and inter-related themes
To a large extent dealing with resistance to change is rather like handling a Rubik’s cube in that all of the major themes are inter-related and many of these have been covered elsewhere on this site.
So wherever possible I will cross-reference you to the key relevant material. You will also find further useful links to additional resources and material on this and other sites.
In Resistance to change we looked at the bigger picture, macro-level perspectives of understanding and working with organisational cultures and sub-cultures; understanding the critical disconnects – where are they are and how they arise; and, dealing with resistance by working with informal networks.
I also recommend that you check out 2 articles by change communication expert Jennifer Frahm: "Six Tactics for Creating Conversations of Change" and "Why is Communicating Change So Hard To Do?" These articles are to be found towards the bottom of the page.
(2) Emotional aspect of dealing with resistance to change
Many thought leaders in the world of change management and change leadership are now speaking vociferously about the importance of the emotional dimension of leadership and the need to address the human dimension of change.
In my view, the definitive work in this area is William Bridges as he focuses on transitions and the psychological changes that lie behind behind significant organisational change.
He maintains that the situational changes are not as difficult for companies to make as the psychological transitions of the people impacted by the change.
For a summary and further links to key thought leaders' work, and for full details and discussion on Bridges' 3 phase transition process, plus key questions and guidelines, may I refer you to:
(3) Personal aspect of dealing with resistance to change
An often overlooked and ignored factor is YOU as change leader - or manager seeking to implement change.
People related issues are a major cause of failure in change initiatives. So the qualities of a change leader are an important
factor in addressing this. This is more about “being” than “doing”.
Many people reading this will skip over it and either assume that they possess these skills and qualities or assume that they’re not that important. Neither of those perspectives will be wholly correct…
Truth is - the mastery of this area is critical to the success of a change initiative.
HOW you are matters and is fundamental to overcoming personal resistance to change - i.e. resistance to YOU personally.
Daniel Goleman says:
"The leaders emotions are contagious - they infect the organisation"
Primal Leadership - "Acting as a leader in a way that primes positive emotions in people"
Another often over-looked factor is that there are limits to how far and how fast people and organisations can change.
It is helpful to have a cognitive map and analysis that facilitates our understanding of this.
If you are using the Practitioners Masterclass materials, you will be familiar with the emphasis that I put on understanding, mapping, communicating and changing organisational cultures.
Why this is do important (yet so overlooked) - is because organisational cultures are the single biggest determinant of how an individual will respond in an organisational environment.
Well here is an expanded perspective of that concept that can be applied to individuals, organisations and societies.
There is an evolutionary path of progression that we all follow as our awareness and capabilities expand in response to increasingly complex changes in our external environment.
In other words, metaphorically speaking, you can not jump from childhood to adult maturity in one step and without evolving through all of the intervening stages of development.
A fairly straightforward cognitive map and analysis is provided by the use of maturity models.There is an introduction to the concept and considerable supporting information about cultural, change management, programme and process maturity models here:
Yet another dimension that is hardly ever discussed, in dealing with resistance to change, is that however well planned and executed "stuff happens" - often unexpected "stuff"!
Contrary to what the "self help" gurus tell us, we do not control our circumstances. Whilst we can exercise choice and have a degree of influence over our circumstances, the blunt reality is that most things our beyond our control.
The consequence of this is that change is imposed on us and we have little control over these events.
This can cause us considerable discomfort and stress.
And this is something that is rarely, if ever, taught on change management courses!