Managers and employees who persistently resist change over time create measurable impacts
on a company including decreased productivity, negative customer satisfaction and loss of
valued employees. In some cases, excessive resistance can cause a change to fail. This
tutorial presents a new model for understanding resistance to change and the impact on a
Flight and Risk Model Description
The Flight and Risk Model is a useful teaching tool to convey the key attributes of
resistance to change. The model is shown in Figure 1 and consists of three regions. Region
1, Comfort and security (also shown in green), is the normal work environment. Region 2
(shown in yellow) is an area of worry and uncertainty for employees. Region 3, the Risk or
Flight zone (shown in red), is the area that employees feel at risk from the change. Along
the vertical axis, employee fear and resistance is increasing. Along the horizontal axis,
time is moving forward.
Each band of the Flight and Risk Model has characteristics for employee behavior. In
the comfort and security region, employees feel secure in their work status and
environment. This is the region of optimal productivity and normal work behavior. In
Region 2, employees are worried about the changes taking place at work. In this region,
employees become distracted (and they distract others). Employee morale may decline and
evidence of passive resistance becomes visible. Productivity loss is measurable. In Region
3, employees enter a "fight or flight" role. Active resistance to change is
apparent from some employees, while other employees may leave the company. Customer impact
is measurable and the change itself is at risk.
The dashed line represents a potential track that a group of employees may follow when
faced with change. Note that the onset of this track is a management communication or a
rumor that change is coming. The two essential characteristics of this track are time and
degree. Time reflects the duration that the group is under stress from the change. Degree
represents the height or level of stress felt by the organization.
Figure 1 - Prosci Flight and Risk Model
Interpreting the model in terms of resistance to change
When a management communication or rumor starts about change, the
organization moves upward in this Flight and Risk model. That movement is normal and
predictable. The rate at which the organization moves upward in this model (the slope of
the curve) depends on several defining attributes of the organization and the change
itself. The factors that can impact the rate of climb into Region 2 or Region 3 are:
The organization's history with past change.
The organization's values and culture.
The level of change already going on within the organization.
These factors are inherent in the company. That does not imply that the
track through the Flight and Risk Model is pre-determined. In fact, the variables that
managers can control have a significant impact on this track. These variables include:
How communications are made (who, when, how and what). For example,
rumors accelerate the rise in the Flight and Risk model faster than a carefully planned
The sponsorship for the change at all management levels.
How the future state is perceived by each employee.
The level and type of training and coaching provided to employees.
How resistance to change is dealt with by managers.
The time and degree for the track through the Flight and Risk Model is
controlled by how effectively change management techniques are employed to deal with these
inherent organizational factors. Figure 2 below shows two potential tracks for an
organization. One in which an organization employs change management effectively, and the
other track in which change management is not employed effectively. Note that in the track
labeled Poor Change Management, the organization rises rapidly into Region 3, the
Red Zone, and stays there for a long period of time. In this track, the organization is
surprised and shocked into change, and suffers customer and productivity impacts. In the
second track labeled Excellent Change Management, the rise into Region 2 is
slower, and the duration is shorter. In this track, change management techniques were
employed carefully to manage the negative consequences of the change.
Figure 2 - Effectiveness of managing change
The track through the Flight and Risk Model is not the same for every
group in an organization. Each group or department will have unique values and management
styles. Each of them will be impacted differently by proposed changes. Figure 3 shows the
multiple tracks that may be experienced during the change process. Note that while
Departments C and D followed a positive track through the Flight and Risk Model in this
example, Departments A and B had a greater level of resistance.
Figure 3 - Impact of change on different departments or groups
Observations from this model
This model is useful as a teaching tool when discussing resistance to
change. The following observations about resistance can be visualized with this model:
From an organization perspective, resistance to change is automatic and expected.
Resistance to change has levels of
severity that have different impacts on the organization.
Resistance to change is not an event, but a "state" of the organization. The longer you remain in
elevated states of resistance, the greater the impact on productivity and on customers,
and the greater the risk of losing valued employees.
Resistance to change is not uniform across the organization; each group
or department will develop a unique
perspective on the change.
Change managers need to be concerned with both the time and degree to which the organization is under stress
or duress from the change process.
Persistent and enduring
resistance from managers or employees is a threat to the change and the organization.
Although the inherent attributes of an organization are not controllable
(history, culture, current change capacity), the ultimate track an organization follows
through the Flight and Risk Model is controllable through the correct application of
change management techniques. Understanding resistance in the context of this model helps
managers and change agents plan for and correctly manage change in their organization.
© 2004 Prosci. This article may be reprinted for educational
purposes. Please cite source as:
Change Management Learning Center, www.change-management.com
Coming next week - The Change Management Debate continues...