Understanding Resistance to Change

stock_resistorOrganizational change comes in all flavors. From a localized project that modifies a key process for a workgroup, to enterprise wide initiatives, such as rolling out a new IT system or deploying Performance Excellence. Yet, one thing that’s consistent across all change efforts, big or small, is the likelihood of resistance – and, in this case, resistance is not futile. In fact, if it isn’t identified and countered in time, resistance can lower morale, delay progress or even derail the change effort.

People oppose change for many different reasons. Some like the status quo and don’t want it to change. Others may disagree with the particular change being proposed, or they may feel they should be more involved with leading or implementing the change. In many cases, resistance is due to miscommunication or misunderstanding of the reason for the change or the specifics. These days, with most people worried about keeping their jobs, resistance can be based on insecurity, or even apathy.

It’s important to understand the reasons why people may be resisting a certain change. When the reason is understood, it’s easier to try to overcome the resistance. This may be fairly straightforward, such as clearing up a misunderstanding or increasing the level of communication about the change effort. Other times, compromises may be reached that enable both sides to be satisfied with the proposed change.

In cases where people disagree with the change, and compromise isn’t possible, logic may not always prevail. The project manager may have to live with the fact that she can’t please all of the people all of the time. Chances are, though, a resistor who has “agreed to disagree” will be less vocal and will bring fewer people over to his side if the project manager has at least attempted a respectful, two-way dialog. Remember, if resistors walk away feeling that their concerns have not been heard, they will oppose the change even more.

Resistance may not always be apparent. A team member may vocalize support for the change, but may chronically fail to complete her tasks (and have a different excuse each time). Or an executive may approve the project budget, but fail to show any visible support for the change. These subtle forms of opposition can damage the change effort as much as more vocal opposition.

Anyone who is charged with leading organizational change – project managers, team leads, mid-managers and even executives – should know how to recognize resistance and, more importantly, how to overcome or lessen it. This not only increases the chances of the project being completed on time and on budget, it also contributes to the sustainability of the change, and that, after all, is what’s truly important.

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