project governance

Is resistance to change really a bad thing?

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Research states that the failure of many change programmes can be traced directly to employee resistance to change [1]

It is not uncommon to see the topic of ‘how to minimise resistance’ on the agenda of kick off meetings in an attempt to thwart the beast that is the challenging employee.

But what if I told you that resistance to change can be a healthy and necessary part of the change process?

When a new process or technology is introduced the impact of this change can greatly affect the end user. It’s these employees whose day to day work life will often change the most. It’s important to listen to their feedback even if it’s negative as it often is.

Although negativity can just be a symptom of uncertainty it can also uncover some genuine concerns that perhaps were not considered by management when the change implementation plan was first drafted.

Capturing those genuine concerns

It’s been said that humans inherently don’t like change but I would debate that statement. We adapt to change every day in one form or another, whether that be rescheduling a business meeting or dealing with a road closure on our way to work that forces us to take a detour.

We have an amazing ability to overcome and adapt but we need context, we want answers as to the why and the how.

Inquisitiveness and questioning is often viewed as resistance but these questions and concerns can be extremely valuable to change champions: They can highlight problematic areas not previously thought of.

In order to properly capture these concerns there needs to be a well-publicised available channel that the employee can raise their apprehensions with the confidence that they will reach the right person and be actioned or at least considered.

Avenues through which this can be achieved are company forums, departmental workshops that the change champions attend, or having departmental employee representatives involved at the beginning of the planning stage.

Involving people early on

Involving employees early on in the planning stages of any change is crucial in change management. Kotter, one of the change management gurus consistently delivers this message in his many books and articles regarding how to successfully implement change.

Not only will you be gathering a holistic view of what issues need to be considered in each department, but you will also be gaining buy-in from the employees.

They are more likely to embrace the change and become champions of the process if they feel included and have an understanding of the overall vision for change.

Resistance should be leveraged rather than dismissed or feared when a business is going through significant change.

It not only captures all elements of the business that are to be considered but also gains buy-in that is so important to building a powerful coalition.

In the words of the Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown “we fear what we do not understand”, so to all the change practitioners out there please take a moment to understand the source and theme of the resistance as this may give you valuable insight as how to make change stick.

[1] Maurer, R. (1996), “Using resistance to build support

for change”, Journal for Quality & Participation,

June, pp. 56-63


Further resources: Check your change readiness in this quick online change readiness assessment

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