Resistance and comfort
practitioners and business leaders often underestimate the level of comfort with the
current state. The natural and normal reaction to change is resistance. Every
individual has a threshold for how much change they can absorb. Moreover, some
employees will resist the change no matter what. Even when individuals can align the
change with their self-interest and belief system, the uncertainty of success and fear of
the unknown can block change.
||The 2005 Best Practices Report identifies the greatest obstacle to managing
"resistance from employees and managers."
Resistance to change can spread and become a
significant barrier to success. One-fourth of major change initiatives
fail because employees are fearful of and resistant to change. Although
initial resistance is a natural reaction to change, ongoing resistance left unattended can
become a threat to the business and to customers. A critical component of any
good change management process will be a program to proactively manage resistance. In
order to be prepared to proactively manage resistance, it is important to:
have a context setting for the resistance
be familiar with key principles and lessons regarding
Managers cannot dictate or control an employee's desire to change. Employees choose.
However, that does not mean that managers are powerless to manage change in this step of
the process. The enablers or elements that may create a desire to change include:
- Fear of job loss
- Discontent with the current
- Imminent negative
- Enhanced job security
- Affiliation and sense of
- Career advancement
- Acquisition of power or
- Ownership for the future
- Incentive or compensation
- Trust and respect for
- Hope in future state
Personal context for change
The above positive and negative motivating factors are
evaluated by employees within the following personal context:
- An employee's personal and
family situation (health, financial position, stability, mobility, relationships, etc.)
- An employee's professional
career history and plans (successes, failures, promotions, aspirations, years left before
retirement, 2nd career potential, etc.)
- The degree that this change
will affect them personally (in some cases even large changes can have only a minimal
impact on some employees)
Organizational context for change
Employees also evaluate these positive and negative motivating factors based on:
- An organization's history
with change (past change success or failure, the likelihood that this change will really
happen, consequences for employees that have resisted change in the past)
- An organization's values and
culture (how the organization treats employees and how employees treat one another)
Resistance and comfort
Do not underestimate the power of "comfort"
with how things are today. The natural reaction to change is resistance. Moreover, every
individual has a threshold for how much change they can absorb based on
their personal and organizational context for change.
You should anticipate resistance to
change as the norm and not the exception. Your goal for change management is not to
eliminate resistance, but rather to minimize the impact this resistance has on employees
and the business.
Prosci's Flight Risk Model
Proscis Flight Risk Model
shows the potential impacts of not managing change over time. The longer the organization
remains in the high-stress risk and flight region (the red-zone), the more
extreme will be the consequences for employees, customers and the business.
The two factors that you can influence with effective change management include the
time or duration the organization remains under stress, and the degree or depth of that
The goal of effective change management is to achieve the
curve shown in the figure above where the organization avoids the initial shock and
minimizes or avoids the time in the red-zone. Poor change management is characterized by a
rapid fall into the risk and flight zone with the organization remaining in that region
for an extended period of time (see the image below).
The three critical and relevant lessons for change management practitioners related to
employee resistance are:
Do not react to
resistance with surprise; expect it and plan for it. Be patient with
individuals as they work their way through the change process. A
good resource for employees is the Employee's Survival Guide to
Change. It answers frequently asked questions and empowers employees to
be effective change agents with the ADKAR model
Assess resistance not
only from individual's natural aversion or dislike to change, but also
based on how much other change is going on (what is the capacity for more change).
from mid-level managers is dangerous to the success of the project.
Proactive resistance management will be an important part of your change management plans.
As a project team or change management team, your
efforts in resistance management will help you overcome the greatest obstacle in managing
change - resistance from employees and managers. This tutorial provided a foundation
for managing resistance including context setting, key principles and key lessons.
Upcoming tutorials in this series will go deeper into managing resistance focusing on
proactive versus reactive resistance management, key steps for creating a resistance
management plan, and action steps for different types of resistance employees.
For a complete set of change management templates,
assessments and tools including resistance management, see the Change Management