Research on Managing Resistance to and Sustaining Changes
Written by Prosci
Updated: December 1, 2022
Published: October 9, 2018
This October, Prosci released findings from two new topical research studies, Managing Resistance to Change and Sustaining and Reinforcing Change Outcomes. These two separate studies bring together insights from hundreds of change practitioners with 833 contributing to Resistance and 659 contributing to Sustainment. Each study explored new challenges and best practices for these crucial topics, above and beyond what had been explored in the biennial Best Practices in Change Management study.
Like the Change Management and Agile study published last year, these reports identify how change practitioners like you handle situations and challenges. In that spirit, I am going to highlight a few of the research findings using examples from some of the world’s most famous (or infamous) change practitioners.
In my passion for science fiction, I find the lessons in this genre useful for understanding the research that I am charged with producing in my role here at Prosci.
Did you know the Prosci Methodology was completely refreshed in 2021?
Failing to Plan for Resistance
My first example comes from the popular show Game of Thrones. In the first season we see our noble protagonist, Ned Stark, attempting to make some important changes to the kingdom of Westeros. We soon learn many people are resistant to Ned’s proposed changes, causing Ned’s change initiative to fail rather abruptly and Ned… well you know what failing means in Game of Thrones terms.
It’s clear to me that Ned, like the 70% of respondents in the Resistance study, did not adequately plan to address resistance and therefore did not completely meet his objectives. If he had, he might have experienced the project success that he was looking for rather then see his project fail with such…finality.
Making Changes Stick
Let’s now examine an example from a galaxy far, far away. Emperor Palpatine of Star Wars notoriety poured countless hours and resources into successfully leading his organization through a multi-year transformational journey. He succeeded for a while; however, he was unable to sustain the change and eventually things reverted to their previous state. (Now, The Resistance wasn’t much better at sustaining change, but that’s a topic for a different blog).
The Emperor had experienced the number one most reported consequence of failing to sustain the change from the Sustaining and Reinforcing Change Outcomes study: employees reverting to the pre-change state. The costs to Palpatine may have been intergalactic war, but there are also costs in our organizations when people revert back to the pre-change state – including failing to deliver expected outcomes.
Identifying Resistance Early
Finally, we travel to a different galaxy for our last example. Thanos from the Avengers: Infinity War is a man with a plan, which includes addressing resistance from an impacted group that is demonstrating the “Acting Out” and “Building Barriers” resistance types that 52% and 42% of respondents experienced in the Resistance study, respectively.
Thanos went into his project with a firm understanding of the potential consequences that unaddressed resistance can have on his project. Before his project even begins, Thanos identifies the impacted groups and potential resistance groups and confronts the resistance to his change directly. This proactive approach to confronting resistance to a change is directly in line with the top contributor from our study. Addressing this resistance is something that all organizations and leaders of change must do not just overlords from space.
These are just some of the insights that are available in the Managing Resistance to Change and Reinforcing and Sustaining Change Outcomes studies. If you want to learn more about managing resistance to your change and sustaining desired project outcomes on projects ranging from software implementation and mergers and acquisitions to world domination, be sure to check out the reports on our website or download the executive summaries below.