Change Management Training – Managing Resistance to Change

Change Management Training – Managing Resistance to Change

Change Management Training – Managing Resistance to Change

The adage, ‘Change is the only constant’ is true since most people resist change. They prefer to live their lives, professional or personal, dictated by a routine. Even a slight change in their routines is not appreciated. Similarly, if changes for betterment of a company are proposed, many employees resent those changes. This holds true especially with long term employees of an organization. It is human nature to choose a stable and predictable environment where all change seems unnatural. Though change is inevitable, people fear it because of:

  • Their incapability to understand change and its implications
  • Their belief that change is irrelevant and inappropriate
  • Their difficulty in coping with the level and pace of work after the change
  • Their unfounded notion that change is a temporary phase
  • Their perspective that their superiors regard them as incompetent, hence instituting change
  • A lack of authority or control
  • A lack of faith in their ability to learn new skills
  • The feeling of too much happening too soon
  • The staff’s aversion to some managers/superiors and total distrust in them
  • Job insecurity
  • A compromise on their salary
  • The feeling that this would impinge on their family time
  • The belief that the organization does not require the much-needed extra effort
  • The fear that in accepting change one may prove to be unfaithful to the traditional way of working
  • The fear that any change would highlight the weakness of employees in the new environment
  • Being burdened with more responsibilities, irrespective of the current workload
  • The ill-feeling which would result from a senior staff member reporting to managers or superiors younger to them
  • Mistrust amongst managers and employees
  • Reluctance to use new technology to simplify work processes
  • Resistance from unions who harbor ulterior motives
  • A lack of proper communication channels between the management and employees

Sometimes it makes me wonder whether it is possible to overcome resistance to organizational change. I think that proper and effective communication with employees will definitely help them transition to new changes. Other factors which drive change are:

  • Strong support to employees from top level management
  • Monetary or incentive programs for work performance
  • Open door policy between brass level management and employees
  • Encourage meetings between managers and employees involved in the power game to discuss goals and tactics.

There is no doubt that change is important for today’s business. As new facets of economy evolve, organizations have to keep themselves a step ahead of the curve or suffer and crash.

On a subjective note, I end this blog. Please do share your thoughts on this.

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  • Asma;
    This is a great article – thanks for sharing. Having spent the past 30 years helping people automate business processes, I have watched people undergo change in various ways and with different degrees of success. I believe you can divide a population of people being forced to undergo change (either through being mandated at work or brought about by external forces or health reasons) into 3 categories: Quick Change Artists, Slow-Pokes and the much bigger group in the middle who don’t relish it like the former, but don’t hate it like the latter do.

    Rather than the lessons I learned on how to use this information as a Change Agent in your company, I’ll point people at a post I wrote which outlines some strategies for dealing with the problem. The post is at the end of this index page:, so scroll on down to the bottom if you want to read it.

  • Looking through your current fears, I acknowledge that we have to all undertake extra caution of ourself.

  • Chris Davis

    Agree with Eric Goldman on the 3 catagories.
    The key is the approach to these groups.

    If there is trust in management, a positive approach should be taken. Then the case should for change should be proven to them. The Middle Group will win the day for you.

    If there is no trust, then the negative approach of fear driven by crisis is usually taken. Still, the change must be proven to the rank and file.

    Worst case scenario is when change is rammed through, particularly by Consultants who don’t know the business, without validating the change. Consultants frequently just cook the books.

  • Stephen Otter

    The starting point in any change is to have effective leadership that has a clear message. This message needs to be consistently communicated at all leveles. So effectively moving from an organisational level to a local individual level. The reasons why individuals resist change are many and varied and you have highlighted some important ones. Others will need to be explored which will be particular to that organisation at that point in time. Nothing should be discounted at the formative stage as this forms the basis of tackling the issues and showing the benefits and rationale that underpins the reasons for change.

  • Xenia

    I find this topic most intriguing, myself being a big fan of change, and in constant fear of falling pray of routines.
    It seems to me that people tend to like the safety of the comfortable and known, ignoring that the unknown has the possibility of being even better.
    In my opinion, the best approach to deal with it is by having a Transitioning Plan:
    Preparation through own research and access to background information.
    Development of a step by step strategy, and
    Constancy – Follow through with it.
    This will make the change less drastic, and its outcome more likely to be positive. As a result, the parties involved will also become more open to future changes.

  • People dont hate change! Most organizations are simple very poor at implementing change. Companies will get cross-functional teams together once or twice, get some input and recommendations and the final decision will be made by an executive team with little resources spent on explaining and training people during implementation of the changes.

    Remember, “People will rather put up with a system that doesn’t work than accept a solution they don’t understand”.

  • Karthik R

    Change is Imminent For an organization, change is in terms of focus, at the top management level and would have to be a very slow and a gradual process, at the Manager’s level change could be in 2-5 years, at the executive level change could be the fastest….

  • Trish

    I think another impacting factor is control. When we know what we are doing it gives us a sense of control in our lives leading to security and comfort. Change removes that ‘feeling’ of control and we feel vulnerable. I have found that if you find a way to give people ‘ownership’ in the change that helps them to maintain their sense of control and they tend to accept the change more readily.

  • I agree with those who proclaim that people generally fear change. I submit that the reason for this goes back as far as the Middle Ages when Change was enforced by fear and intimidation. Even as far away as the Dark Ages fear was used as a change agent. People can be forced to change but this will never be sustainable change. Whenever I needed to implement change I always spend a considerable amount of time preparing an exaustive change communication plan to let everyone involved know the reason for the changes, what the proposed changes would entail and what the benefits would be once the changes were implemented. To this I would add a clear description of the various roles people would play during the change project. I can certainly confirm that this has made most of my change projects relatively less complicated.
    I recommend my book “Changing the Future” which includes all the basic concepts of Change in a real world. ISBN90-76249-13-X

  • In my experience, here are the top 5 enablers or assets that assist change, followed by the top 5 obstacles to change.

    Top Enablers/Assets:
    1) You (and your organization) are experiencing a crisis, perhaps one that threatens your existence, and drives you before it.
    2) Everyone is focused on that crisis. Have you ever been on a plane and heard a loud “boom!”? Everyone goes quiet; they look around or at each other, and wonder “What was that?” They are alert and prepared to meet the danger.
    3) Leadership that shows the way forward, and channels peoples’ fears and panic, hopes, dreams of survival and better days, and energies.
    4) A willingness to “link arms” and work together to emerge from the crisis together.
    5) A strong survival instinct, where the tagline is “failure is not an option.”

    Top Obstacles:
    1) A comfort level or even fixation with the way things are, remarkably, no matter how miserable or painful. People would rather complain than change.
    2) A fear of the unknown, or better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know.
    3) Weak or non – existent leadership.
    4) Infighting.
    5) The belief that failure is a perfectly acceptable option, and maybe even the preferred solution.

  • Hi Asma,

    Thanks for initiating this interesting conversation.
    I agree with the natural fear for change which is common to many people (not to everybody though) of any age.
    I think there is another level of resistance to change caused by the ego. Whenever the individual feels that a change is “imposed” by an external factor he naturally reacts by thinking there is no need to change.
    It follows that this adversity can be won by making the individual the protagonist of the change, the one who has thought of it and has foreseen the potential benefits and analysed the potential risks.

  • Thank you all for your valuable comments.

    @Fiorenza, Thanks, Glad you enjoyed the articles.



  • The sheer fear of uncertainity of the unknown is the major cause of resistance to change. And this fact is inbuilt in the human system (psyche). And as we are all born with Alzheimers and over time it grows….grows out of proportion. So is this fear factor which grows with age.
    There is perhaps no recorded history of possible steps to overcome this resistance. But whatever change in whichever field one can get a good start if introduced at an early age.
    You can expect a more focused answer if you can specify the area, the field you want to introduce the change.

  • Steve Caldwell

    I like the discussion points previously raised by others. To further this discussion, I think it is important to realize everyone resists change to some extent.

    I think part of our change resistance is due to familiarity with our surroundings, other people, or internal mechanisms. Try this exercise as a way to showcase how much change resistance you have for simple, everyday tasks.

    Tomorrow morning, do your regular routine out of order. For example, I normally wake up, eat breakfast, brush my teeth, shower, and then shave. When I’ve tried to shave, then shower, then brush my teeth, and then eat, it felt totally wrong. I didn’t want to wake up in the new way, I had to wake up “my way.”

    For something as simple as a routine (i.e., going on autopilot without thinking), I suspect we resist simple changes because of the familiarity or because the action does not “feel right”. I think part of this resistance is due to self-preservation. What is familiar is what I know and can control. Once I start changing, I don’t know what to expect anymore. Expanding on this concept, we start to see even more resistance to change with larger groups of people. We compound our individual resistance by adding them to group norms, organizational ideals, country expectations, and so on. Each level then has additional impacts and resistance that causes further issues.

    Maybe one way to positively impact this inherent resistance is to show why a change does not negatively impact someone (or even a group of people). If people can understand why a change is not threatening, it can lessen fear of the unknown. Letting people try out a new situation / change in a non-threatening environment can lower their natural resistance. Changing one person (or small group) in this fashion can many times cause a group of people to be less resistant to a change (i.e., peer or social acceptance).

  • Organizations do not change, the people who work in them change the way they do things. People are not afraid of change, they are afraid of losing their sense of identity in the change process (their job, status, relationships, respect, authority, role, sense of competence and self-efficacy).

    Neuroscience studies are showing personal insight to be the fastest and most effective way to jumpstart new (and changed) behaviors.

    Our neuron highways have been built up over time and it takes lots of small and consistent incremental baby-steps to shift them in a new direction, stone by stone, foot by foot, mile by mile.

    Insight starts the change process, incremental work over time makes it happen.

    Change is actually not hard; it just takes time (and consistent focus) to put into place — and we often don’t give it enough time nor our sustained focus.

    “So, what’s working” is always a great place to start. It’s easier to add to an existing highway than build a new one.

  • I think there are four resaons why people resist change:
    1. FEAR (stands also for False Emotions Appear Real). I suggest to my clients to always think: what is the worst that really can happen?
    2. They have an EGO, that hinders them to accept change
    3. Do not have the tools or feel uncomfortable to work through CONFLICT.
    4. They have no PURPOSE/VISION for their work/business/life.

    Also, if you like, visit my website: I have a 4 min video posted on Change at the “About Us”page.

  • There are several reasons why employee resist change.Folger & Skarlicki(1999) sees resistance as employee” behavior which seeks to challenge, disrupt, or invert prevailing assumptions, discourses, and power relations”. Lorenzi & Riley(1999), in their work states that” it is easy to change the things that nobody care about and that it becomes difficult when you start to change the things that people do care about or when they start to care about the things that you are changing”.Change is inevitable and resistance to change impairs concerted efforts to improve performance.However,rapid and too many changes is evident in today’s work environment.How many and what kind of responses are mobilized depend on the perceived threat associated with the change.Employees that perceived change management efforts as being stressful are most likely to be under pressure,fear and feelings of uptight, emotion, frustration, anger, isolation and poor relationship.Bolognese A.F(2002)believes that resistance is an inevitable response to any major change and that individuals naturally rush to defend the status quo if they feel their security or status is threatened.
    Recommendation:As agent of change, we need to understand the human factor management.We must understand a person’s state of mind before we introduce change, the most important factors that go into a person’s state of mind are his or her perception, fact, beliefs,feelings and values. It is absolutely necessary as human capital developers and top managers to understand why people behave the way they do. However, in the face of employees resistance to change, i would advocate that a professional human factor manager or human resource expert with sound education,experience and training be allowed as a psychotherapist to work on employees perception of change,educate and train the employees,so as to move away from negative view point of change and move to the positive viewpoint of change.Employees perception of change management matters, before individual employee could put up a resistance to change, he or she must have perceived the change negatively and those that perceived the change positively have great support for change.

  • Elizabeth;
    I think what you are saying in the first paragraph is that it’s not the organization itself which undergoes change, it’s the people inside them who bring it about by changing the way they do things. If that’s what you’re saying, as opposed to organizations don’t change, period, then I agree. Sort of… Sort of because organizations consist of more than people and yes, while it’s always the people who engineer a change, the organization itself really does change, too, when you alter its processes, machines, etc.
    I liked the neuroscience process description of how it happens inside us – that’s neat.
    But have to say that your statement of “Change is actually not hard,” is true only for some of us and not for others (and even then is dependent on the scale and timeframe of the change; see below for more on this). In my comment above, I said you could divide a population undergoing change into 3 groups: quick-change artists, slow-pokes, and the big bunch in the middle who don’t relish change like the former, but don’t hate it like the latter. The slow-pokes find change really difficult – it’s just not something they want to do no matter how well the benefits of the change are explained to them. These people just like their routine to continue on.
    And then there’s the issue of scale or the size of the change and the time one has available to make it in. The kind of change I think we’re talking about here is the organizational wrenching kind which upsets whole departments, and affects much of the company by enforcing new behavior. Upheavals of this kind are not only difficult to undergo, but they throw “what’s working” out the window and introduce a whole new way of doing things. And often the competitive pressure forcing the change does not allow one the luxury of making small incremental moves to accomplish it in.

  • Ellen Markey

    Communicate, Communicate, Communicate….oh and did I say, Communicate? I love the analogy that Dr. Jerald Jellison uses that in the movie “Jaws”, Spielburg only agreed to do the movie if the producers agreed NOT to show the shark for the first hour of the movie. He KNEW that our imagination and anticipation were greater than anything he could possibly show… the fear is of the unknown.

    Talk about the why, the WIFM, and keep in mind that you need to gather the feedback and impressions of more than top management. The people who supervise the front line are the ones who will be facing the greatest amount of anger, resistance, fear, etc. Jellison calls them the anxiety monsters. I think change initiatives fail because people don’t consider it’s an ongoing process…. you must communicate the intitative in 7 different ways at least 7 times. You have to set the stage, as to what is in it for the company, department, and individual. Be brutally honest, but empathetic. Reduce fear, by identifying the obstacles up front and setting a proactive plan to deal with the greatest restraining factors.

    His book is Managing the Dynamics of Change…. by Dr. Jerald Jellison, PhD from California. I’d highly recommend it. It speaks to the way people move through the change, and the importance of understanding how that happens and recognizing which stage of the process the individuals are in.

  • Mohd Hafiz Johari

    It’s indeed an interesting topic to talk about and reading from all the posts, I must say that it provides different understanding, insights and thoughts from people of various level of experience and maturity. Personally, i echo to the facts that people fear for change due to several factors which may potentially impact or create risk to their normal ‘eco system’. A great change management would require deep dive understanding on ‘human soft part’ and managing the sensitivity. As change agent, we must one first having to understand the ‘burning platform’ and get ourselves prepared before pushing others to embark on the same ‘journey’. Change won’t happen over night and it’s a journey….

    Failure to plan and mitigate the change barriers would certainly be the ‘show stopper’ and no doubt, it has to be top bottom driven with continous communication flowing across the organization. People MUST realize the ‘business case’ for such changes and willingly to open up their mind and keeping moving from their comfort zone. I’ve seen lot of change initiatives failed due to this simple reason. Sometimes having too much ‘theoretical’ strategy can also be a setback as it makes the shift becomes too complicated and irrelevant to the context.

  • Interesting exchange! Since we can’t know what the consequences of not changing (status quo) would be once we are forced into a change, we can always think back to our photoshopped memory of the way it was and be upset with the new situation. However, we will never really know what the picture would have been if things had not changed. As others have astutely noted, changes feel like they require us to let go of our sense of control, to get past our fear of not being successful in the new reality.

    It might be helpful to distinguish between continuous change (like growing old, the change of seasons, getting to know someone) and discontinuous change (like the economy collapsing, a different political party taking over, discovering you have a serious illness). Most people can handle change in relation to the 80/20 rule. Continuous change (about 20 percent) does not usually phase people, but discontinuous change (closer to 80 percent) totally overwhelms them.

    I agree that communication is critical in any discontinuous change situation. Tell people what you know, what you don’t know, that there is no change, that the new changes include _________, etc. Keep them informed even when there is nothing new to tell them. Understand and accept the fact that people are afraid of major changes and, as William Bridges told us 30 years or so ago, they need time to transition on the inside in response to changes that occur on the outside.

    By the way, not everyone is averse to change. Some people (adrenaline junkies, I assume) embrace it wholeheartedly and are the first to adapt to it. More power to them!


  • Traci Skog

    People are relational by nature and want to feel valued. Adults need to see benefit in order to ‘buy in’. All of these variables involve an element of trust. If the change is implemented apart from trust levels and relationships being established, there will be greater resistance. In essence, as Gerry said, “They feel like they lost control by not having had the opportunity to have a say.” I would take steps to build trust levels/relationships. Strategic leaks may also be utilized to ease the transition.

  • What I’ve found really works is having people get all their concerns out on the table. Often the resistance is around not being consulted in the first place and therefore change occurs like its being forced upon them and naturally people resist. They feel like their lost control by not having had the opportunity to have a say. Once you can address their concerns and have them out on the table, something new can become available. Don’t be surprised if the concerns about technology start to point and raise something more general that the culture of the organisation has been dealing with that hasn’t been dealt with. This is an opportunity to start to address what’s at the root cause rather than the symptom of backlash against a technology or approach.

  • This is a great list of the obstacles leaders face when implementing change. My experience has been that many people resist change for a variety of reasons. Even if the majority don’t fear change, there are enough people actively resisting change that management needs to know how to deal with the resistance in a way that gets people on board. A hidden benefit is that if you get those who are actively resisting change on board, those who are pasively resisting will get on board too.

    The following link is a lists steps to implementing change that I recently put together. I plan to elaborate on each of the steps in upcoming posts. You may find the steps helpful.

    Please leave a comment if find it helpful or if you have anything to add to the discussion.

    Best wishes,
    Chris Paulsen

  • Humans have an inherent desire, develop, change and grow. However, change is about the ‘right brain’ emotional mind or heart, not the rational ‘left brain’ mind. People will not invest a sustained effort into new thinking or behaviors based on purely ‘rational’ reasons.

    They need a deeper, ‘emotional’ trigger to shift their perspective. It’s about the right thinking, feelings and attitudes — a purpose to believe in — somehow it must relate to their internal desire to develop, grow and succeed. Change is not difficult — but internal acceptance is.

  • You really make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this matter to be actually something which I think I would never understand. It seems too complex and very broad for me. I am looking forward for your next post, I’ll try to get the hang of it!