A Senior Change Advisor's Approach to Managing Resistance to Change
Written by Ankur Shah
Resistance to change is a growing problem for organizations around the world, especially given the level of change we’re all experiencing today. Yet managing resistance is one of my favorite problems to help clients solve. It’s true! Because resistance is complex, difficult and emotional, helping clients and organizations solve for resistance is immensely satisfying and it creates significant value for them.
3 Steps To Managing Resistance
When clients ask me what they can do about resistance, my first piece of advice is to reframe the question. Before deciding “what” to do, we must understand the “why” behind the resistance. We’re all tempted to jump into action but understanding the reason behind the resistance is critical. Here’s my favorite approach for digging a little deeper to understand and act on resistance.
1. Anticipate the "why"
Work with your project team, leadership team and others who are not impacted directly by the change. Ask them to share their thoughts about which group of employees is going to be most impacted and change the most. What will be changing for them? Consider process, organizational structure, job role, technology, compensation, etc. These are the items to document in your initial assessment using Prosci's Impact Index . Build your hypothesis and formulate ideas—just don’t get too attached to them.
2. Listen to impacted people
Ideally, you should talk to the people who will be asked to change before it's officially communicated to them. This second step seems to be the one folks fear most. Do not fear! Wouldn’t you rather get a preview of the big adoption barriers earlier than later? I know I would. In design thinking, we conduct user interviews to help us formulate the design. In change management, I think of this as a resistance interview or resistance focus group.
Conducting a resistance focus group
- Explain to participants that your goal is to learn from them. No feedback is off limits. If possible, be sure they know that feedback will not be attributed to them.
- Explain the change briefly, five minutes maximum. This is a good indicator of initial reaction and resistance. People’s brains start processing a change very quickly, so this is really the most time you’ll get before they start to react. Resist the urge to answer any questions from individuals at this point. This time is for gauging their resistance—not to solve for it.
- Ask participants, “What are you resistant to?” Have participants break out into small groups to discuss and record answers, including both rational and irrational concerns. This helps you identify barriers to Desire.
- Next ask, “What do you need to overcome your resistance?” There’s no shame in asking. Let their answers flow as in a brainstorming session where all ideas are valid. This sheds light on where additional Awareness is needed or where you need to build Knowledge and Ability.
- Now ask, “Who do you need to help you overcome resistance?” People typically want help from two key roles during change: their direct leader and the project sponsor. To overcome their resistance, they look most often to direct leaders. At this point, we are identifying our key senders and who should conduct coaching.
- End by thanking participants. This is your opportunity to bring them on board and help them invest in the change—reminding them that their feedback makes them partially responsible for the solution. They can contribute to project success by adopting the solution and continuing to share feedback. Feedback is a gift!
3. Determine your “what”
Once you know the why behind resistance, you can integrate it into your change management plans. If you’re resource constrained, as most of us are, identify the top issues you heard from the impacted people and attack those head on. Make a plan to continue listening as you roll out your change, so you can respond as needed.
Tried and True Strategies
Resistance is a natural, human response to change. These simple and cost-effective strategies are tried and true—and can help you better manage resistance before your project go-live date. Although they won’t help you solve for all resistance, they can help you eliminate those significant issues that can completely derail your projects.