Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Do people resist change?

Steve Simpson writes in his Blog Inspiring Cultures:

Why do people resist change?

I think the answer to this is really simple... People resist change because of a combination of up to three reasons:

  1. They don’t like their boss(es) - if people don't like those who are asking them to change, then despite the logical value of the change, people will resist out of retribution. This is all about the relationships
  2. They don’t like the change itself. This can relate to two separate, but important aspects - the process by which the change was introduced or implemented (ie, the way in which it was done) and/or the content of what is proposed (ie, the what). For example, people will resist change if they feel they weren't consulted. They'll also resist if they feel the proposed change doesn't result in sufficiently important benefits (either to them or the organisation)
  3. They don’t like the impact it will have on them. For example, change may mean extra work in a context where people are already very busy, or it might expose people's weaknesses within the 'new' environment. This is all about the ‘me’

I don't agree. I don't believe people resist change at all. I do believe that systems resist change - this is a typical pattern of complex systems, as a result of their auto-poietic behavior.

People have concerns, purposes and circumstances. If we acknowledge them, they will cooperate. If we neglect them, they will not cooperate.

But most people are not against change. Make a simple experiment with any group of people in an organization: Draw a matrix on the floor. One axis is about change in personal life (from "I seek for change in my life constantly" to "I love stability"), and the other axis is about change at work (from "I adapt easily when I am asked to be changed" to "I don't like to be changed"). Ask people to find their space on the grid. You will find that most people will be in the quadrant that says "I seek for change and I adapt easily", while they would say that their staff and bosses are in other quadrants. Isn't that a paradox?


  1. What I learned as a psychologist is that 'resistance' doesn't exist. It is the therapist/leader/facilitator who doesn't know how to relate with where the person really is, how the other really feels...

  2. I don't know that there would be more people selecting the change quadrant. I've encountered people who were very comfortable with their routines because they had developed what they saw as the most efficient and effective way of dealing with a situation. It would take a great deal of persuasion to get them to do something differently.. and some very good reasons... not just change for the sake of change. Perhaps you would need to demonstrate to them that the situation they built their routines for has changed and these routine are therefore no longer the best way to do things.

  3. Well, people in organizations are rarely people at all ... they're people embedded in groups, departments, project teams and a multitude of other formal and informal affiliations. Systems they all are (a human itself is another complex system on another scale).

    When asking what prevents change we can find a whole lotta reasons, some deeply rooted in one person's belief systems, others may be more situated in the group's experiences and learned patterns.

    Yes, it's more complicated than we all normally conceive, and keeping track of all factors isn't "really simple" as Steve Simpson writes in Inspiring Cultures. This is indeed one of the most difficult questions we [must] tackle and ponder when we look at [change in] organizations.

    (Hoilger, I've written this on posterous, but it doesn't trackback, so in the spirit of interactivity I do redundant things ;)

  4. We are living in the ordering paradigm. From individuals to entire organizations the aim is to order everything. This anxiety to order everything is the exact opposite of change. At the same time understanding this anxiety of ordering everything is the key to embrace change.

  5. if embraced,change can create new opportunities for individuals and help them lead a more successful ,happier and productive lives

  6. Experience shows, and literature confirms, that more often than not results from initiatives to improve the business are disappointing. Some are outright disasters. Creating change is really hard.

    Significantly overestimating the readiness of the organization to change may be a key factor when results are disappointing.

    Why does this happen? Here are some hypotheses:

    (1)We are too enamored with our solution. After all, our project team has toiled for months crafting it, we are deeply entrenched in the issues and detailed analyses, we may have bought in external experts to confirm our vision etc. We have convinced ourselves that our solution is right, and we expect that others in the organization will now easily grasp the brilliance of our recommendation as well.
    As a result, we are under-managing (and likely under-funding) the change process. We overlook that it took us months to get to this point, often with controversial discussions, until we finally converged on the recommendation. Can we really count on others making the leap in a few days, after seeing a couple of presentations?

    (2) We dismiss “resistance” as irrational behavior: these people “just don’t get it”, they are “nostalgic, stuck in their old ways”, “afraid of change” etc. This is problematic for two reasons. It makes us blind to understanding the thought processes that frequently are well founded and rational – they may just be based on different perceptions and assumptions. Only if we understand can we develop effective ways to make our case by addressing these different perceptions and assumptions head-on.
    Secondly, people are perceptive. They will recognize our attitude as what it really is, that we are in fact looking down on them. Envision this scenario: “We believe that you are irrational and resisting, so we will ‘change mange’ you to comply”. Of course, this is never expressed openly, may probably even be a subconscious emotional response. But it is frequently implied by actions or remarks etc. of the leadership team. Would you feel attacked and manipulated? How likely is it that you will lock up and even reinforce your position? Engaging in an open and productive dialog that might change your mind is then very difficult.

  7. In order for SUCCESSFUL change to occur, I would offer this formula for implementing any change initiative to your readers. The formula for change (DxVxF>R), created by Bleckhard and Gleicher, two organizational development pioneers, is typically used when an organization needs to create a path for implementing a change initiative and to identify those crucial, early steps in doing so. In addition, the formula (which is designed to be followed in sequential order) helps organizations clarify the reason for the change by identifying the dissatisfaction with status quo.

    The D represents Dissatisfaction – the need to identify clearly why staying where we are is not acceptable.

    The V represents the Vision of the change. You must create the vision of what you are looking to accomplish. It is helpful to describe the vision through the 5P’s (Purpose: why should we have to do this; Picture: what will it look like; Plan: step-by-step how will we get there; Performance measure: how will we measure success; and Part: what is the role you need others to play to move the process forward).

    The F represents the First Steps needed in order to get the change moving. So many times, we attempt the F before we have set up the D or V. This is usually where change initiatives fail. We get gung-ho and start first steps without ever describing why we should have dissatisfaction or what our actual vision is to our stakeholders. This is almost a guarantee that the change will fail. The first steps cause people to wake up to the change and to start either accepting or rejecting it, and if you don’t have a solid reason for the change or the vision they will probably reject your initiative.

    If we implement the Change Initiative in this order DxVxF, we will most certainly overcome R, or the Resistance that occurs when people react. Every change initiative has an R, the people that don’t like change, that like the culture just the way it is, that don’t see the necessity to grow and build.


  8. I agree with the statement that individuals resist change, but for slightly different reasons. To define change Richard Daft and Dorothy Marci convey change as "the intervention stage of an organization development in which individuals experiment with new workplace behavior". By stating the fact of change management this means that people are constantly experimenting and trying on new organizational tasks and endeavors. The reason people resist change I believe lies within a fourth bullet 4. Not enough organizational and emotional morale. With lack of communication, and lack of proper leadership people are afraid to place themselves in the way of change with an unknown future at the end of their journey. People are ultimately looking for recognition, and acceptance. With a constantly changing organization this is not always possible.

  9. I agree that people resist change, in fact I think that resistant to change should be analized and understood in order to get a succesful change project.
    Regarding the resistance to change Graetz propose four main views. First, the psycological model of resistance explain that individuals challenge any type of change by nature. Second the system model of resistance suggest that individuals resist to lose something that they like such as status, money, or comfort. Third, the instutionalised resistance to change explain that for some employees it is difficult to adapt and learn new schemes or ways to do the job, and finally the organizational culture view suggests that members resist change that is contrary to their dominant attitudes and beliefs.

  10. There seem to be two fundamental laws of change:

    (1) Everybody wants change. "The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery." [Harold Wilson]

    (2) Nobody wants change. "There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things." [Niccolo Machiavelli]

    Why this contradiction? Are we just plain mad?

    Perhaps we need to modify the laws of change:

    (1) Everybody wants change. In particular, everybody wants everybody else to change.

    (2) But everybody else resists change.

    It seems that change is just more fun as a spectator sport.

  11. Thank you for your thought-provoking post. I think the classification of people as change resisters is, in itself, one of the key problems. Once people have been classified as resisters the amount of effort taken to enable change automatically diminishes.

  12. Thank you for this interesting and informative post. I haven't thought of the reasoning of people who make change difficult. I have always been flexible to adapt to new changes. I have always thought people who were not adaptable to change were because of the three reasons explained above. I can now see how the change is presented to employees, however, I can also see how working more hours on top of a busy schedule would be a deal breaker in being adaptable to change. Great Blog!

  13. In my experience, change is resisted when the individual does not believe in the change. It is up to the leader to convince the individual of the need for said change. The individual must have loyalty and trust in their leader before they will comply with the change. I agree with Nauheimer that "People have concerns, purposes and circumstances. If we acknowledge them, they will cooperate. If we neglect them, they will not cooperate." It all comes down to the leadership style that is used to coerse change in an environment and people must be able to know that their voice is heard before they can respect their leaders and follow their path towards change.

  14. Why people resist change?

    1. I will have to agree that their needs to be a relationship between the boss and the employees. At a base level there needs to be mutual respect in place for the best performance and to work through a change. The visible support of top management helps to overcome resistance to change. (Daft & Marcic 2011)

    2. I agree with this point also. If the change was done by coercion for instance, employees are going to balk. If this method is used employees will feel like victims, are angry at change managers, and may even sabotage the change (Daft & Marcic 2011). A better way would be to use participation and negotiation. Participation involves users in designing the change. Negotiation is more formal means of achieving cooperation. "Negotiation uses formal bargaining to win acceptance and approval of a desired change"(Daft & Marcic 2011 p.279).

    3. I do think this is part of the fear of change. People are already so busy and are afraid they will have more on their plates as a result of a change. If the proper communication/education, participation, negotiation, and with the support of top management these feels will be greatly eliminated (Daft & Marcic 2011).

  15. A culture is operating at the first level of change when people primarily think in terms of just coping with the situation. They respond to change with a "victim mentality." You see a lot of helplessness and dependency behavior. The general outlook is pessimistic. Too much valuable energy gets invested in resistance, anger, blamefulness, or fear. People focus on problems instead of solutions.

  16. Fascinating post & comment thread!

    My thoughts...
    1) Some people (like me) naturally embrace change. Others naturally prefer stability & routine, so their first instinct is to resist change.

    2) Communication is vital. Just because someone, or a change management strategy team, has lived, breathed or believed in the need for change, doesn't mean that the rest of the company automatically will. You need to deliver the change strategy & plan in a way that educates, motivates and inspires.

    3) Consistency is key. Don't hold secret meetings in a room for weeks or months, then emerge with a change plan and say 'guess what...ta-da, look at our genius idea! accept it, or else...'. Keep the entire company informed throughout the process - details are not necessary, but highlights & intentions are.

    4) 100% adoption is a myth. Change will never go down well with every single stakeholder or employee. Be clear about your intention and strategy, then step aside and be prepared for fallout. If they love your new direction, they'll buy in and sign on. If they don't, they'll leave.

    Loads more to say...will leave it there for now. Cheers!

    - Maya Mathias
    Leadership & Innovation Coach