THE BEST GUIDE FOR MANAGING RESISTANCE TO CHANGE
Complete Guide to Overcoming Resistance to Change with Specific Individuals or Groups
This free resistance management guide provides you with a step-by-step overview, and everything you need to know for identifying and managing resistance to change. It provides answers to often asked questions on “why are people resistant to change”, and also outlines best practices and plans for managing resistance to change at your organization.
This guide is designed for Change Management Practitioners, Project Leads, Group Leaders and Managers, HR Specialists, Program Managers, Firm Leaders, and other practitioners.
“I have been a Change Management Lead for over 15 years and have led large scale business transformations across Cisco, HSBC, Intel, Accenture, the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank, Deloitte, and other firms. Oftentimes I have had to implement plans to help organizations in overcoming resistance to change.
Throughout my tenure in driving change, I have discovered that applying the best practices described below have increased my successes in managing and resolving the various types of resistance to change.”
Senior Change Management Lead
Included below are best resistance management practices, as well as links to a top AGS resistance management tool to managing resistance to change in an organization. We’ve also referenced templates that you can use to minimize or eliminate resistance at the team, group, department or regional levels.
First, What is a Resistance Management Plan?
A resistance management plan involves the set of steps, strategies, activities, and approaches used to identify, evaluate, manage, and resolve resistance to a change.
Assessing and identifying resistance, and then applying proactive and reactive plans are proven strategies to overcoming resistance to change in an organization.
An effective plan allows you to effectively identify all the individuals and groups that are either resisting a change or who are not receptive to the change and allows you to effectively engage these groups, and overcome their resistance to the change that you are supporting.
How to Overcome Resistance to Change
The sections below provide clarity on why people resist a change, as well as key insights into what resistance looks like, and how to manage it.
Click any of the links below to jump to a specific section, or keep scrolling down.
- What is Resistance to Change?
- Why Do Stakeholders Resist Change?
- What Does Resistance Really Look Like?
- How to Overcome Resistance to Change
- Steps to Addressing Stakeholder Resistance
- The True Costs of Resistance to Project or Business Change
Resistance is often subtle in nature, and we’ve provided best practices for identifying the various sources of resistance, as well as presenting two key plans for mitigating the different levels of stakeholder resistance.
What is Resistance to Change?
Resistance to a change is the situation whereby impacted audiences and individuals are not supportive of a change, which results in them acting in ways that negatively impact the success of the change. These can be both overt and subtle shows of change resistance.
Resistance to change is not always internal. There are situations where a government or a business organization faces external resistance where customers, vendors, suppliers, and external parties are not in support of a change that the company is implementing, and are acting in ways that hinders the success of the change.
Why Do People Resist Change?
People generally do not like change, and so the first thing you should understand is that resistance to a change is normal human behavior.
Change involves uprooting habits and behaviors that have become second nature and that are often done automatically as part of a routine. Overcoming employee resistance to change involves understanding that it means a loss of that routine and why it’s human nature to resist change.
Even if the change presents a wonderful improvement to existing issues, there will still be some levels of resistance to the change.
Comfort with the status quo is extraordinarily powerful. Key reasons why people resist change include to not wanting to spend time learning the new way of doing things, fearful of a negative impact to them, and currently being burdened with too much change. See sections below for more reasons on why people resist a change.
Below are examples of sources of why employees, customers, and managers resist change.
Sources and Causes of Resistance to Change:
- Users are heavily invested in the current way of doing their work and do not want to undergo the process of having to learn new ways of doing work.
- Users that created the current way of doing work that will be changed, may not want to see their efforts changed.
- People that advocated for a particular alternative, say Option B, but then Option A was ultimately selected, may be unhappy.
- There is a lack of awareness for why the change is needed, including a lack of awareness of the business factors driving the change.
- Employees expect more work as a result of the change.
- There is a fear of job loss and uncertainty.
- There is a lack of support or visibility from senior leaders, managers, and supervisors.
- Negative history with previous changes that have been implemented in the past impact feelings.
- A feeling that this new change is the “flavor of the month” with no legs. Meaning they expect management to move on to something else and abandon this new program, based on a history of management doing just that with past initiatives.
- End-users have no bandwidth to take on any new change initiative. They feel overwhelmed and overloaded.
- Customers expect to have to drastically change their habits or processes to be able to use the new solution that the company is implementing.
- Customers expect higher costs to adopting the new change.
- Managers and executives feel overwhelmed with constant change taking place within the company.
The above list is just a sample set of the reasons for resistance to change in the workplace. These sources of resistance to change should be addressed proactively in a proactive resistance plan. See the sections below for techniques for managing resistance to change.
What Does Resistance Really Look Like? (Resistance to Change Examples)
The more that impacted users believe their current way of day-to-day work (internal users) or way of conducting business (external users) will be impacted by a change, the more resistance you should expect to see during the change.
Examples of Resistance to Change Quotes:
- This program/initiative/project/change is never going to work.
- Why do we really need this change? To be frank, I strongly believe that we don’t need this.
- This is NOT going to be good for me or my team.
- The current (tools/systems/process/etc.) has been working just fine for years, despite the existing gaps! Why change it now?!
- I have been doing this for the last umpteen years, and I am not changing the way I’ve been doing my job for the past umpteen years just because of this change.
- We tried this same thing years ago and it didn’t work. It is not going to work this time around.
- I don’t have the time for this, or time to learn something new. I am overwhelmed with work.
- I’m not sure if I’ll be successful after the change, and I fear that I might lose my job.
- This is just another ‘flavor of the month. Senior leaders will move on to something else soon and abandon this change, so why should I waste my time?
- As a manager, I cannot free up resources to support this change.
- Is this just a way to cut headcount?
When developing your resistance management plan, note that sources of resistance can be at the individual, group, or organizational-wide level. This is an important factor because the scale and source of resistance will drive your plans on how to deal with resistance to change across the organization.
Illustration – AGS Cloud Resistance Management Database
In developing your reactive and proactive resistance management plans, you should take identified behaviors into consideration. The more of the behaviors below you see from people, the more you are likely dealing with resistance to the change.
Types of Workplace Resistance:
- Putting up barriers
- Passive resistance
- Not following the new procedures (not performing the new way)
- Developing workarounds to the new solutions
- Agreeing to something in public/meetings, but not following through
- Not attending meetings, even when they are required attendees
- Refusing to attend training sessions
- Not responding to emails or calls
The type of program, project, or change management resistance you confront will reflect each impacted groups’ culture.
For example, if you have a group that has an analytical culture, any resistance from that group will sound analytical in nature, and employees within that group are more likely to say something like: “I doubt this change will work. Show us the proof that it will work.”
For a group that is more community-driven in nature, you will probably hear statements like, “Thank you for letting us know about the change. Now, what does everyone else think? Do you all believe this change can be successful?”
So, How do You Overcome Resistance to Change?
PROACTIVE RESISTANCE MANAGEMENT
Overview – Proactive Plan for Managing Resistance to Change
A proactive resistance management plan involves the assessment of potential points of resistance, as well as identifying existing levels of resistance, and then managing these resistance points upfront.
Unlike reactive resistance management, which involves reacting to unexpected/unanticipated resistances after they occur, a proactive strategy involves a preemptive approach on how to overcome resistance to business change.
A proactive strategy is similar to grabbing the bull by the horns, rather than cowering in the corner, and waiting helplessly for it to decide when and how to impale you.
In other words, with a proactive approach, you don’t wait for the unexpected/unanticipated resistance to happen and then react; instead, your goal is to identify where resistance might come from in the future and then proactively minimize the chances of that happening.
A proactive resistance management approach involves assessing each impacted group to understand their historical or existing receptiveness to change in general (e.g., a history of being open or resistant to change), as well as understanding which individuals within these groups have been known to be resistant to the previous change.
When developing your proactive resistance management plan, you should seek answers to key questions including:
- Are there known levels of resistance? Which groups? Why?
- Where do we expect resistance to come from in the future? From which groups? Why?
- What will resistance look like if it does occur in the future? Why?
- How can we address and mitigate identified resistance before it has negative impacts on the project?
Proactive resistance management planning is the early identification of likely or existing resistance, so it can be addressed upfront.
Proactive Resistance Management Plan Implementation
Apply the proactive strategy below to effectively identify and manage potential and existing points of resistance.
- Conduct Assessments to Identify Points of Resistance
- Enter Identified Information into a Resistance Management Database
- Determine Engagement Approach & Resistance Management Tasks
- Determine Resistance Mitigation Owners
- Enter Additional Information Into Resistance Management Database
- Implement Resistance Management Tasks and Activities
- Conduct Ongoing Touch Points
- Provide Ongoing Reporting and Status Updates to Program Leads
(Step 1) Conduct Assessments to Identify Points of Resistance
If you already have an existing list of potential points of resistance or list of known resistors, that’s great.
In addition, you can follow the steps below to identify more resistance points and individuals. Click here to review a resistance management tool, and to also download a free checklist for managing resistance.
- Conduct a change impact assessment to identify the groups that will be heavily impacted. Assess each group’s bandwidth and capacity for the change. Low bandwidth and the high impact often lead to people resisting a change.
- Perform a comprehensive stakeholder assessment to identify key managers and leaders that will be impacted by the change, or who will be needed to support the program in order for the program to be successful. Assess these critical stakeholders’ receptiveness or resistance to the change.
- Conduct an organizational readiness analysis to assess how ready and prepared each impacted group/organization is for Go-Live. Groups that are completely unprepared and groups that need to undergo an extensive level of readiness will often resist the change.
- Meet with program managers, sponsors, key stakeholders and supervisors that support the change to get their input on potential or existing points of resistance.
- Set up a change champion network and conduct “resistance identification” sessions, and also learn how the change is being perceived within their organization.
- Meet with selected managers within impacted groups to assess their receptiveness to the change, as well as the overall receptiveness within their groups. Low levels of receptiveness indicate positive signs of resistance to the change.
- Send out surveys and questionnaires to gauge receptiveness or lack of receptiveness to the change.
Identified points of resistance, as well as information on resistors, should be documented in a resistance management spreadsheet with actionable steps and mitigation activities. See below.
(Step 2) Enter Identified Information into a Resistance Management Database
Gathering the information listed above will be an ongoing process. As you progress with your information gathering, you can enter gathered information into a resistance management spreadsheet, software, tool, or platform.
You can use AGS’ Resistance Management Tool and Template for any kind of project. This tool is an online change manager that is designed to help you plan, manage, and execute a successful change project.
Choose from a Cloud or Excel version that includes real-time analytics and detailed resistance management metrics, as well as simplified templates for reviewing change project impact levels, resistance levels, and more.
Template for entering and analyzing stakeholders for resistance or risk management
As part of your information gathering, make sure to work with the program team, project managers, primary sponsors, change champions, and key stakeholders, and also conduct stakeholder impact assessments to identify groups, as well as executives, business leaders, and managers within impacted organizations who fit the criteria below.
- Known to be resisting the change
- Has taken a strong opposing stance to the change program
- Has voiced little to no willingness to support the program
- Has resisted similar types of change in the past
- Is in a position to be able to strongly impact the success or failure of the change
Document your findings in the Database matrix included as part of this Resistance Prevention and Mitigation Tool.
(Step 3) Determine Engagement Approach & Resistance Management Tasks
For step #3, determine and document the approach that will be used to engage the stakeholder, as well as the resistance management tasks that are pending or in-progress.
(Step 4) Determine Resistance Mitigation Owners
The next step in the process to overcome resistance to change in the workplace is to identify the person who will own the resistance mitigation for each stakeholder, and then enter that person’s name in a spreadsheet or change management tool.
This identified individual (who will be referred to as the Resistance Mitigation Owner) will be responsible for meeting the stakeholder, and working to reduce the customer or employee’s resistance to the change.
A Resistance Mitigation Owner can be the Change Management Lead, the Project Manager, Program Manager, Project Sponsor, another key stakeholder, firm leaders, the stakeholder’s manager or superior, a change champion, or anyone that has influence over the resisting stakeholder.
Enter the identified Owner’s name in the “Resistance Mitigation Owner” column in AGS’ Resistance Management Tool or in the spreadsheet that you’ve created.
(Step 5) Enter Additional Information Into Resistance Management Database
In addition to documenting the name of the mitigation Owner, you should also input any other key pieces of information you’ve gathered. This additional information will be used to plan out the next step of the resistance management process.
AGS Cloud Resistance Management Tool, a Simple Way to Manage Resistance to Change
(Step 6) Implement Resistance Management Tasks and Activities
The next step will involve the “Resistance Mitigation Owner” scheduling one or more touchpoints to meet with their designated stakeholders.
Best practice is to meet 1-on-1 and in-person. If that is not possible, then a video call or phone call can be used. Email is never a good way to engage and discuss issues that can be causing an individual to resist change.
The objectives of these touchpoints are to “meet and greet,” discuss the business factors driving the need for the change, and assess/validate their willingness to support the change. Most importantly, discuss any issues or pain points the stakeholder might have about the change that needs to be resolved in order to get their buy-in and support of the change. Lastly, discuss the next steps.
AGS’ Resistance Management Tool comes equipped with a Questionnaire, and also Meeting Agenda to help drive meetings with these stakeholders.
The list below presents key sources of resistance to change in the workplace.
- A lack of awareness (why is this change happening now? What are the benefits and risks of not changing? etc.)
- The WIIFM – what’s in it for me, is not clear to the person
- The individual does not believe that they have been given the right levels of training, skillset, and support that they need to be successful in transiting through the change
- Fear of job loss
- Shock and fear of the unknown
- Loss of control
- Lack of capacity and bandwidth
- Lack of reward
- Office policy
- Loss of support system
- Previous negative experience to a change
- Climate of mistrust
- Empathy for others that are negatively impacted and peer pressure
- Fear of failure
As you and the team implement your activities for dealing with resistance to change, you should continuously document information in your stakeholder resistance and management template so you can effectively track progress. Tracking progress allows you to monitor each stakeholder’s journey: from a resisting level to a level where resistance has been completely mitigated.
Document the following:
- What needs to be done to remediate the factors causing this individual/group to have low receptiveness to the change?
- Who else can be involved in the process to help remediate the issues and concerns?
- What will be the next steps to mitigate the individual/group’s resistance level?
See Also: Cost of Resistance in the Workplace
(Step 7) Conduct Ongoing Touch Points
To ensure that you continue to overcome and address the sources of resistance to a change, it is essential that there is an ongoing dialogue with stakeholders.
For groups, individuals, and managers that are resisting the change the most, you and/or the Resistance Mitigation Owners should meet with them in person (if possible) on a regular basis, to communicate the benefits of the change, as well as to emphasize what’s in for them.
Employees and managers with medium and low resistance levels should also be engaged, but just not as much as those with high levels of resistance.
Also, make sure to keep everyone informed on the progress being made to address their concerns, pain points, and issues with the change.
- If a lack of awareness was an initial reason for a particular group’s resistance, then make sure to continue to provide them with the necessary levels of awareness, including the benefits of the change, and what’s in it for them.
- If a lack of skills or fear of failure was a resisting factor, then share your plans to provide training and coaching support to them/their group to help them adopt the change.
Irrespective of each individual’s level of resistance (low, mid or high), you should ensure that each stakeholder is engaged throughout the implementation. You and the Relationship Owners should continue to work with these stakeholders to mitigate their concerns and fears of the program.
The engagement aspect of the proactive approach pays huge dividends in the long run as it allows you to build trust and rapport with impacted managers and stakeholders. And in return you will be able to depend on these managers to help identify others who might be resisting the change, or to help reduce resistance within their groups.
Don’t Miss: Types of Resistance to Change
(Step 8) Provide Ongoing Reporting and Status Updates to Program Leads
Use the AGS Resistance Management Tool’s Analytics Dashboard to track your customer, employee, and manager resistance management success and progress, and also to report status updates to program leads, project sponsors, and other key leaders.
Alternatively, you can develop your own analytics tracking tool.
AGS Dashboard Analytics: Managing Resistance to Change
Let us know if you have any questions or comments about the Proactive Resistance Management Plan discussed above. The next section below provides a high-level overview of reactive resistance mitigation planning.
See Also: What is Resistance to Change?
REACTIVE RESISTANCE MANAGEMENT
Overcoming Resistance to Change Using a Reactive Strategy
Reactive resistance management planning involves a reactive approach to overcoming resistance to change.
This is when you react after identifying resistance versus proactively working to mitigate resistance before it can occur (proactive resistance management planning is covered above).
Even with best efforts at proactive resistance management, there is still bound to be customer, vendor, manager, or employee resistance to change that you didn’t see coming. This is why you should also expect to employ reactive resistance management in addition to proactive.
View the list below to help you effectively identify when unexpected resistance has occurred. Leverage the steps listed in the Proactive Plan above to mitigate unanticipated resistance after it is identified.
How to Identify Resistance Throughout the Life of the Program:
- Conduct ongoing meetings with program managers, sponsors, key stakeholders, and supervisors that support the change. Get their input on any new resistance points, groups, or individuals.
- Set up a change champion network and meet with these champions on a regular basis to assess how the change is being perceived within their areas of the organization and also to identify any resistance.
- Meet with mid and senior managers within impacted groups on an ongoing basis to assess their continual receptiveness to the change, as well as the overall receptiveness within their groups.
- Send out surveys and questionnaires.
- Also, you can directly observe resistance. See the list below.
Direct Observation of Stakeholder Resistance:
- Putting up barriers
- Passive resistance
- Not following the new procedures and not performing the new way
- Developing workarounds to the new solutions
- Agreeing to something in public/meetings, but not following through
- Not attending meetings, even when they are designated as required attendees
- Refusing to attend training sessions
- Not responding to emails or calls
Identified resistance and resistors (individuals or groups) should be documented in a Resistance Management Matrix with actionable steps and mitigation activities. Leverage the information outlined on this page to develop your matrix. In addition, you can review this page that covers Airiodion Global Services’ Resistance Management Tool & Matrix.
Additional Techniques for Addressing Different Types of Resistance to Change in the Workplace or with Customers
AIM published an article on “How to Manage Resistance to Change” and here is a list of techniques from that article that you can use for addressing and overcoming resistance to change, in addition to what is presented in this Guide.
- “De-Personalize” the resistance: Do not take resistance to the change personally. It is not about YOU.
- Start looking for resistance to the change as soon as possible. Don’t wait until it is so severe that it becomes extremely difficult to mitigate it.
- Communicate frequently, and give end-users the opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings about the change.
- Involve employees in the implementation process. Make them feel like partners, versus people that something is being done to.
- Don’t punish employees for expressing their resistance. Always strive to bring covert resistance out in the open. When resistance is covert in nature, it makes it very difficult to identify and mitigate.
- Managing resistance is not “a one time, check the box, then you are done” event. As the implementation evolves, so will resistance. As such make sure that you are using reactive and proactive resistance management techniques to assess, identify, and resolve levels of resistance throughout the duration of the change implementation.
In most cases, the resistance is best managed by the direct supervisor or highest level manager in the chain of command for the employee, group, or employees that are resisting the change. As such, you will need to work with managers, project sponsors, SMEs, change champions, and key stakeholders to implement the resistance management plans.
The True Costs of Resistance to Project or Business Change
It is extremely important to develop and implement plans that address the reasons for resistance to change. If not resolved quickly and early on, organizational resistance to a change, project, program, or initiative often comes at a huge cost to the organization.
Such costs include:
- Recurring project delays, missed deadlines and being behind schedule
- Desired outcomes, return on investment (ROI) and project objectives are not achieved
- Project is forced to be abandoned
- Productivity declines
- Valuable and high performing employees decide to move on to other firms
- Extra risk, extra costs, and inefficiencies
AGS Cloud: Resistance Management Tool
The AGS Tool for Managing Resistance to Change includes a best-in-class resistance management database template, samples, a 360-degree analytics view of stakeholders by resistance level, and much more that you can leverage to simplify and optimize your change resistance mitigation activities.
AGS Cloud is a full-featured cloud platform to help you plan, manage, and execute a successful change project, end-to-end, whether this is your first change project or your one-hundredth. You can choose all nine modules in the tool or just choose the Resistance Management Module.
Click below to purchase this tool and for instant access that will allow you to get started right away.
What is Resistance to Change?
Resistance to change is when impacted audiences and individuals are not supportive of a change which results in them acting in ways that negatively impact the success of the change.
Why Do People Resist Change?
People generally do not like change. It is normal human behavior to develop habits that become ingrained and difficult to change. Key reasons why people resist change include having to learn the new way of doing things, fearful of a negative impact to them, and currently being burdened with too much change
What is a Resistance Management Plan?
A resistance management plan involves the set of steps, strategies, activities, and approach that will be used to identify, evaluate, document, manage and resolve resistance to a change.
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Authors: Ogbe Airiodion (Senior Change Management Lead) and Francesca Crolley (AGS Cloud Content Producer)
Content on Airiodion Global Services (AGS)'s Airiodion.com website is copyrighted. Questions? Contact Airiodion Global Services (AGS) .
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