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Explore the Levels of Change Management

3 Types of Change-Resistant Behaviors and How to Help People Overcome Them

Written by Tim Creasey

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During organizational change, employees are likely to exhibit resistant behaviors at some point. As a change practitioner, it is your responsibility is to anticipate and actively mitigate these behaviors during the planning stages of a project or initiative. Yet, even with solid planning, some employees may have difficulty embracing change and will need help removing the barriers that keep them from making their personal transitions.

Change-Resistant Behaviors

Employee behaviors fall into three groups during times of change. Group 1 is open and willing to change and is often called the early adopters. Group 2 is uncertain and hesitant about change. Group 3 behaves as though they are entrenched and will not change.

Depending on your organization and the type of change taking place, the distribution of employees exhibiting the behaviors in each group will vary. For simple changes with little impact, you may find that 90% of your employees exhibit Group 1 behaviors, 10% exhibit Group 2 behaviors, and no employees exhibit Group 3 behaviors. For complex changes that have a significant impact on individuals, the distribution may be quite different, with a small fraction falling into Groups 1 and 3, and a large fraction into Group 2. Regardless of the distribution, the approach for managing resistant behaviors is similar.

Group 1: early adopters

For Group 1, you are dealing with the least-resistant behaviors from employees. These employees are the first to commit to the change. It is critical that you engage these employees early and leverage their visible participation to help move the change forward. Each employee in this group can become a strong and active advocate for change and can influence the background conversation with other employees. This background network is a key channel to reach employees who exhibit Group 2 behaviors. Group 1 represents your advocates.

Group 2: uncertain and hesitant

Group 2 employees require the most time and attention. These employees are the central focus of the methods provided here. Their choice to support or not support the change will be influenced by how effectively the change is managed. These employees may need help moving through barriers, so they can successfully adopt and use the change in their daily work. Their direct managers will be the primary enablers through coaching and support.

Group 3: most resistant

Group 3 employees, by definition, behave as though they are unlikely to change and will not support the change within the organization. Some are beginning an exit strategy that could include moving to another group or department, moving to another company, or leaving the workforce (e.g., retirement).

When considering Group 3 employee behaviors, remember the importance of where to focus your change management energy. Many times, change management energy is spent on the small percentage in Group 3. Instead, you should focus your change management energy on the majority in the other groups.

How To Diagnose the Root Cause of Resistant Behaviors

Resistance is a natural and normal reaction to change. Every individual has a threshold for how much change they can absorb. However, the top reason frontline employees resist change is a lack of Awareness of the underlying business need for change.

It is beneficial to diagnose the root cause of resistance using an assessment like the one below. Providing the needed information to increase employees' Awareness of the business need for change is the first and most important proactive step in successful resistance management. The assessment below will allow you to determine if Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability or Reinforcement are barrier points or root causes for resistant behaviors from employees. The assessment is best done face-to-face by someone who will actively listen to the employee. This is where your people managers play a critical role in managing change. They will be key players and can use this assessment with their employees.

ADKAR elements@2x-May-16-2022-09-41-25-93-PMThe Prosci ADKAR Model

Resistance Assessment Exercise

This assessment worksheet is based on the Prosci ADKAR Model. You can use this exercise with an employee or manager in a face-to-face discussion or ask the employee to provide responses in writing If possible, the employee's manager should conduct this exercise.

  1. Why do you think the change is happening? Describe the business, customer or competitor issues that you believe have created a need for change.
  2. Do you support this change? What factors affect your desire to change? Would you consider yourself in favor of the change, neutral towards the change, or opposed to the change?
  3. Do you have the training you need? Identify the skills and knowledge that you believe are necessary to support the change. On a scale of 1 to 5, how would you rate your current training on these skills and knowledge areas?
  4. Are you having any difficulty implementing these skills and knowledge? If yes, in what areas? Considering the required skills and knowledge, how would you rate your ability to implement the changes?
  5. Are you getting the support you need? Is there adequate reinforcement and support for the change going forward? In what areas can we provide additional support or reinforcement?

What This Means for You

As a project team or change management team, you will not be able to eliminate resistant behaviors. But it is your job to anticipate and proactively mitigate them during change management planning. Once you have determined the barrier point a particular employee is experiencing, you can take action to address their needs and help them move through their transition. Knowing the potential types of change-resistant behaviors employees in your organization may exhibit will help you focus your change management energy in the right places and help your organization achieve greater success with change.

Download the Managing Resistance to Change Executive Summary