Reasons for Resisting Change

Peter Vajda has a great post over on Slow Leadership titled “Why People Resist Change” that is well worth the time to read.

Peter argues that the reasons people resist change is that they are ‘told’ to change….rather than being ‘asked’ to change.   He writes:

What’s the most common process for introducing change in our organizations? We hold a meeting. Tell people why the change is necessary and give our reasons for the change, the expected benefits and tell them be prepared to do it our way. Then, we become angry and frustrated as all heck when we experience their subsequent resistance and lack of buy-in. Usually, little or no change happens in the long run.

Now…in most instances, the management team have done their homework and really believe that the changes that they trying to implement are the best things for the organization…but they do a poor job of engaging their employees in creating these changes.  This ‘telling’ approach makes employees feel as if management doesn’t really care about them.  Again, Peter writes:

If those in charge take a ‘telling’ approach towards change, in essence they are saying to employees: “We really don’t appreciate you; we really don’t want to include you. You have to change, like it or not.” That’s the perception and we all know perception is reality — especially in workplace situations when change is the issue.

Think about the last time you were told that change was coming.  Were you in complete agreement that it was the right change and it was necessary?   If you are like most people, you might agree that change needs to occur but you aren’t sure that ‘this’ change is necessary or that the implementation of the change is quite right.

What would happen if you were involved from day one in the decision making process?  Peter suggests that:

If you would take the time — and be honest and sincere in your efforts — you could ask people for ideas and be assured they will come up with most of the solutions required for them to do their best, both for themselves and for the good of their team and organization…

….What would it be like if leaders engaged employees in the change process by inviting them to join in the decision-making and problem-solving leading up to the change?

Most organizations can’t involve every single employee in change initiatives but a good cross-section of employees would be better than nothing.  Ask employees what they think about the current environment and what needs to change…most times, they’ll come up with some excellent ideas for change that may have been missed by management alone.   Lastly,  engaging employees in creating change initiatives will normally bring about the proper sense of urgency and ownership required for the change(s) to be successful.

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8 responses to “Reasons for Resisting Change”

  1. Andrew Meyer Avatar

    interestingly I put in a blog very similar to this this morning, though my perspective is a bit different.

    My entry is a part of several entries I have about the difficulties PMI is having in trying to quantify value in project management. A part of it is that many project involve change and there are many long standing reasons why people in companies don’t like to change.

    I’m still learning the ways of the blogging world, but I may take the other side to what Peter Vajda said. Involving people in the discussion of change doesn’t mean that it benefits them. Especially if they are at certain levels of middle management. Even if they are involved in the discussion, they are motivated by power and compensation structures they have already created and while it may be obvious that those structures are suboptimal for the organization as a whole, they may well optimize the benefits for mid-level managers.

    Sorry, I don’t want this comment to become my blog entry, but I will be interested by your thoughts as I have a lot of respect for what you’ve written.


  2. peter vajda Avatar

    I agree with your thesis, Andy. Perhaps the following might be of help, or might not.

    Managers cannot control an employee’s response to change. Employees choose how they will react or respond and life is about choices.

    Yes, employees are and should be concerned with a “what’s in it for me” perspective. However, for me, what’s underneath their “what’s in it for me” perspective, and how that affects their input into the decision-making process is what matters.

    Until and unless they come to the table and are asked to voice their concerns, their personal context for wanting or refusing change, managers have no idea of what underlies their input (their reactions and responses).

    It’s here in inviting employees into the decision-making process that one can understand their resistance.

    Generally there are three groups who respond to change and who have a personal “what’s in it for me?” perspective: those who are willing and open to change, those who are initially hesitant and reluctant and those who are adamant about not changing.

    The employee’s involvement and engagement in the decision-making process supports managers to understand who the advocates are, who needs true and real support to understand and be OK with the change and those who should probably move to another unit, department or company as they cannot abide by the change.

    Inviting employees into the decision-making process and listening to them, allows the manager to get to and diagnose root causes and then take whatever appropriate actions are required. Then and there the elephants are usually “outed’ for the benefit of the team/group or organization.

  3. Eric D. Brown Avatar

    @ Andy – Thanks for the comment…good stuff.

    You have a good point….people may bring their own agenda into the meetings and change initiatives but I think if the change process is managed well, these personal agendas can be managed well.

    Thanks for stopping by. You’ve got a great blog going….keep up the good work.

  4. Eric D. Brown Avatar

    Peter – Thanks for stopping by.

    Great thoughts on how to manage personal agendas when dealing with change initiatives.

  5. Andrew Meyer Avatar

    Peter and Eric,

    Thanks for you’re clarification. I must preface my response by saying that my thoughts were formed operating in large and political organizations. As such, they are experiential not academic.

    I like your break down of the three groups with a “what’s in it for me” perspective. Those being people:
    1. Willing and open.
    2. Hesitant and reluctant.
    3. Adamantly opposed.

    I might phrase them a slightly different way.
    1. Those not invested in the current structures who stand to benefit from the opportunities presented by change.
    2. Those who are apathetic or busy with other things, but will jump on the bandwagon of whichever side is going to win.
    3. Those who are invested in the current processes and structures.

    In my (often painful) experience, this third group is the problem. They are often upper-middle level managers who will probably never be promoted again but who hold significant operational power. This power flows from long experience and local knowledge of how the business operate in their area, their leadership reigns of control in that area and personal relationships they enjoy inside the company and with customers.

    In my experience, these are the very managers who really know how the business works. Dealing with them determines whether new processes, structures and systems are used or if they are implemented and forgotten.

    The degree to which they engage, are interested in engaging or have the time to spare to engage is a critical question. These managers often work 60 to 80 hour weeks and are highly productive members of the corporation, that is why they are where they are.

    I am not sure that your post was actually targeted at this type of an employee. I came across these problems on large ERP implementations and global business process reengineering projects. It is these types of projects that I am commenting on. Strategic, corporate projects.

    Please note that I do not disagree with anything you are saying, I am clarifying a situation I have struggled with in my professional career in the hopes of continuing this discussion. I don’t think we are the only ones struggling with how to handle these situations.

    If either of you are interested, I am actually doing a webinar for PMI on Project Communications and the Terror of the Troubled Project. I would love to send you an invite and get your thoughts on my approach.

    The webinar should be educational, maybe a little melodramatic and entertaining. I haven’t seen other PMI presentations where they compare projects to putting stretch pants on a rhino.

    Send me an email at [email protected] and I’ll be happy to send you an invite.


  6. Eric D. Brown Avatar

    Andrew – Great stuff. Thanks for the info on your webinar…I would love to join.

  7. Reasons for Resisting Change via @ericdbrown