Top 2019 Guide for Developing and Implementing a Plan for Overcoming Resistance to Change
OCM Phase 2 | By Ogbe Airiodion

Why Do People & Employees Resist Change?

Resistance to Change is a Natural Human Behavior

Whenever there is a change, there is always resistance, and so do not be surprised when you observe resistance to change!

Even if the change presents a wonderful improvement to existing processes, systems or business operations issues that have been plaguing impacted employees, there will still be some level of resistance to the change. It is human nature to be resistance to change which is why employees resist a change.

Based on this, managing resistance to change has become one of the top priorities for efficient change and project management programs across most industries and companies.

Resistance Management - Change Management and Project Management-min
Resistors rarely show up looking like this lady. Sometimes they do, but most often, resistance is covert and subtle

Comfort with the status quo is extraordinarily powerful. Fear of moving into an unknown future state creates anxiety and stress, even if the current state is painful for employees, which is why they often resist change.

So How do You Overcome Resistance to Change?

Overcoming change resistance allows you to increase user adoption of new processes, technology, and organizational structure. But how do you deal with such employee resistances? Managing resistance to change in an organization will involve applying a multi-prong process that we will cover in the sections below.

A combined proactive and reactive resistance management plan is one of the key change plans that we will need to create to help overcome the resistance that you or your team might be facing. But first, let’s quickly discuss some specific reasons why employees resist a change, as well as provide you with a list of examples of different types of change resistance.

This is important, as this knowledge will allow you to more efficiently identify even the subtle types of resistance.

Reasons for Resistance to Change

Below are examples of why employees resist change:

  • Users are heavily invested in the current way of doing 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, and who do not want to see their efforts changed
  • People advocated for a particular alternative, say Option B, but then Option A was ultimately selected
  • Lack of awareness for why the change is needed, including a lack of awareness on 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
  • Lack of support or visibility from senior leaders, managers, and supervisors
  • Negative history with previous changes that have been implemented in the past
  • 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
  • End-users have no bandwidth to take on any new change initiative. They feel overwhelmed and overloaded

See Also: Types of Resistance to Change (What Does Resistance Look Like?)

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 reducing resistance to change.

Don’t Miss

Airiodion Global Services’ Resistance Assessment, Tracking and Management Tool which comes with an analytics dashboard, as well as templates, and a matrix for you to use in managing resistance to change in an organization

OCM Resistance Management Software Tool - Reduct Resistance to a Change-min

The tool also comes equipped with a proactive and reactive resistance mitigation strategy, as well as best practices for working with stakeholders and leaders to address and reduce levels of resistance.

Types of Resistance to Change | What Does Resistance Look Like?

The more that impact users believe their current way of day-to-day work (internal end-users) or way of conducting business (external end-users) will be impacted by this change, the more resistance you should expect to see during the change.

For example, statements like the ones below, indicate that you are likely dealing or will possibly deal with some level of resistance to the change:

  • 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 year, 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 the comprehensiveness of your resistance management plan.

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.

Key examples of observable resistance:

  • Disengagement
  • 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 designed as required attendees
  • Refusing to attend training sessions
  • Not responding to emails or calls

The type of change resistance you confront will reflect each groups’ culture and can be subtle. For example, if you have a group that has an analytical culture, any resistance from that group will sound analytical in nature. For example, 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 about the change. Now, what does everyone else think? Do you all believe this change can be successful?”

The True Costs of Organizational Resistance

It is extremely important to develop and implement a reactive resistance management plan, as well as a proactive resistance management plan to overcome organizational resistance. If not resolved quickly and early on, resistance to a project, program, change or initiative often comes at a huge cost to the organization.

Such costs include:

  • Recurring project delays, missed deadlines, and behind schedule
  • Outcomes, return on investment (ROI) and project objectives are not achieved
  • Project is forced to be abandoned
  • Productivity declines
  •  Absenteeism
  • Valuable and high performing employees decide to move on to other firms
  • Extra risk, extra costs, and inefficiencies

Resistance Management Plan (Reactive Resistance Mitigation)

Reactive resistance management planning involves a reactive approach. This is when you react after identifying resistance versus proactively working to mitigate resistance even before they occur (proactive resistance management planning is covered below).

A reactive plan outlines the resistance mitigation steps that will be taken to address resistance that could not have been anticipated or prevented, or when resistance is enduring or persistent.

When creating a reactive resistance management plan, you should definitely leverage the resistance mitigation and management information outlined on this page. In addition, you can review this proven, well-structured Reactive Management Plan from Airiodion Global Services. The AGS plan is provided as part of AGS’ End-to-End Resistance Management Tool.

How do you identify resistance as part of your reactive plan? One way will be direct observation. Another way will be getting feedback information from change champions. Direct impact from managers and also surveys are other ways to identify resistance to change.

End-to-End Resistance Management Samples, Templates, Tools

Identified resistances 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 on Airiodion Global Services’ Resistance Management Matrix.

Resistance Management Plan (Proactive Resistance Mitigation Strategy)

Proactive resistance management planning is the early identification of likely or existing resistance, so it can be addressed upfront.

A proactive resistance management approach leverages what you know about each impacted group organization (e.g., a history of being open or resistant to change), and what you know about the project/program/initiative itself (e.g., level of impacts, scope of the change, organizational readiness, etc.)

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?
  • How can we address and mitigate identified resistance before they have negative impacts on the project?

Plans to Reduce Resistance to a Change Project

Leverage the information presented on this page, when creating your proactive resistance management plan. In addition, you can obtain a ready-to-use Proactive Management Plan. This plan is provided as part of AGS’s Holistic Resistance Management Tool.

Methods to Address Employee Resistance

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 to address employee resistance.

  • “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 a reactive and proactive resistance management techniques to assess, identify and resolve levels of resistance throughout the duration of the change implementation

Dealing with Resistance to Change

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.

Resistance Management Tool

External Sources: and

Author: Ogbe Airiodion (Senior Change Management Leader and Founder of AGS).
Note: Content on Airiodion Global Services (AGS)'s website is copyrighted. If you have questions, comments, or tips about this Airiodion Global Services content, please contact Airiodion Global Services today.