Secrets of a Change Resistor

From the Shifting Change: Insider Tips from Project Leaders Blog
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Today's world is influenced by change. Project managers and their organizations need to embrace and sometimes drive changes to keep up with the pace in highly competitive environments. In this blog, experienced professionals share their experiences, tips and tools to manage and exploit changes and take advantage of them. The blog is complimentary to the webinar series of the Change Management Community Team and is managed by the same individuals.

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John ORourke
Ronald Sharpe
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Wendy Heckelman

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Secrets of a Change Resistor

The Announcement

How many times have you seen this type of email blast from senior management and said…”Not again”?

"…it is an undertaking which will enhance core values by transforming the organization and disrupting the industry. Initially, teams will be created and will be tasked with leveraging the organization’s core competency, determining the best ways to empower our employees while focusing on the customer experience…”

Now, you have two choices. You can be a pawn in another senior management change initiative or become a change resistor.

Why Resist?

Resisting is fun…

As we learned in Change Management 101, in order to have a successful change initiative, there are numerous goals we strive to attain. Here are a few of these key objectives:

  • Minimize the impact on productivity
  • Avoid unnecessary turnover or loss of valued employees
  • Eliminate any negative impact on customers
  • Progress from the current state to future state as quickly as possible with minimal disruption to the organization

While these are noble ideals, they all require one thing: a change to the status quo. When you think about it, is there really anything wrong with the current way we do things? Just because associate satisfaction is low or profitability is decreasing or the competition is poaching our customers, is that really a reason to bring change to the organization?

Human Behavior and Change

There are certain patterns which occur in human behavior during organizational change. These are naturally occurring and, in general, reduce the probability of an initiative actually succeeding.

  1. Change is hard. Most people gravitate to the path of least resistance by maintaining the status quo. If the change manager fails to develop a comprehensive change plan dealing with all phases of the initiative, it could easily fail at any point in the process.
  2. Lack of engagement by the project sponsor. This is what we call the “Shiny Object Syndrome”. The project sponsor has competing priorities and becomes disengaged with the initiative once the initial excitement of the project wears off. This lack of leadership engagement creates a gap in the decision-making or approval process, slowing down project execution.
  3. Scope creep. Another gem in the resistance tool bag. If the change manager fails to thoroughly document the requirements and implement a change control process, my work here is done. There is a good chance an engagement will fail due to stakeholders expanding the project’s scope.
  4. Missing key stakeholders. If the change manager requests assistance in the identification of additional stakeholders, this is a perfect time to add FOMOs (fear of missing outers) to the project team. FOMOs are self-important people who want to be included in every key initiative although they may not be directly impacted by it.  FOMOs can usually be counted on to delay a project’s schedule or add new requirements to its scope.

Change Teams Can Cause Resistance

Interestingly enough, there are certain actions that the change team takes which can cause employees to start resisting the change. In the resistance business, this is what we call “A Gift”. The change team:

  • Attacks the resistor(s) aggressively and without tact.
  • Does not use sponsors effectively.
  • Allows the sponsors to be non-committal about the change.
  • Uses threats and aggressive language.
  • Avoids talking and listening to key stakeholders.
  • Does not engage the various teams impacted.
  • Ignores those who resist.
  • Communicates the plan and then ignores the plan.
  • Is vague about what the change will accomplish.

Resistance to Change - Employees

Sometimes, employees rise up and resist the change. This is called “Storming the Castle”. For this to be effective, the opposition must come from a relatively large and diverse group of employees. If it does not, then the change team could crush the rebellion by identifying each resistor and proactively addressing individual concerns. Here are some reasons employees resist change:

  1. Belief that the change is unnecessary
  2. Surprise and fear of the unknown
  3. No input into the decision
  4. Not confident that the change will succeed
  5. Loss of status and/or job security
  6. Peer pressure
  7. Lack of resources to implement the change
  8. Cannot see the benefits

Types of Resistance

If all of the above mentioned actions fail to derail the initiative and the change effort is still viable, a comprehensive resistance plan will need to be developed. Be creative in developing a strategy. Do not limit yourself to one type of resistance. Be creative and execute a multi-faceted approach. Finally, it is important to understand that each type of resistance can be foiled by a competent change team if they follow the recommended course of action.

  1. Gossip - Gossip normally occurs in an uncertain environment and is driven by misinformation and inadequate communications from senior leaders. It is usually not personal in nature but can be damaging to the effort if not addressed promptly. Change Team: Address rumors by listening to the issues and focusing on the concerns. This is accomplished by reviewing the communication plan, identifying gaps, and making the necessary adjustments.
  2. Pushing the Boundaries - Instigators want to see what the change team’s response is when the effort is resisted. Examples may include missing meetings, being unresponsive to email requests for information, or openly challenging a decision. Change Team: How early resistors are dealt with will have a significant impact on the success of a change effort. The best response to this type of resistance is to question an employee’s motives.
  3. Individual Resistance - This resistance is generally limited to the extent of an individual’s personal power within the organization. Those individuals with more power can aggressively challenge and critique the change initiative. Change Team: Handle each individual action carefully but start at the top. A separate meeting may be necessary so the resistor can express his or her concerns, and the change team can offer a more structured response. The way this resistor is managed will send a strong signal to other potential resistors.
  4. Collective Resistance - Organized resistance is usually a sign that the change effort has deep dissension. Employees will not go through the process of organizing unless they have serious issues with the change. Change Team: One of the more successful ways of managing this conflict is to negotiate with the resistor’s leadership team. Allow the leaders to express their concerns and modify the change initiative to reflect any concessions that were made to resolve the issue.
  5. Covert Resistance - This is a deliberate act of resistance to change. It is conducted in a manner that allows the person responsible for it to appear as if they are not resisting. Change Team: Handle this type of resistance by being proactive in the identification of the individuals responsible.
  6. Passive Resistance - This occurs through apathy or a lack of action towards the change effort by the employees. They appear to support the change effort, but they do not participate in any of the change deliverables. Change Team: One of the better ways to handle the apathetic employee is to get commitment to a deliverable in a public forum, usually at a weekly status meeting. At subsequent meetings, confirm that the deliverable is progressing until the task is complete.

Final Word

Do not despair if you are unsuccessful in your efforts to derail an initiative. You will get another chance. There is always another corporate change initiative ready to be launched.

Posted by John ORourke on: August 18, 2019 11:59 PM | Permalink

Comments (9)

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Some excellent advice for dealing with any change initiative. Thanks

Thanks Ronan. I appreciate you comment.


Excellent. Various type of resistance and their solution ways.

Well said - nice job offering change team options to all the different types of resistors.

Terrific overview -- and I appreciate the mischievous tone!

Very comprehensive overview. Cheers!

great advice! thank you!

very useful, thank you

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