Check out Skip’s super short introduction below!
What is resistance really about? How to flip it to our favor?
How to define resistance?
It is critical to define what is meant by the term resistance, and it is not as simple as it initially sounds! True, “organizational change can generate skepticism and resistance in employees, making it sometimes difficult or impossible to implement organizational improvements” (Folger & Skarlicki 1999)
Power holders and leaders can be expected to resist changes that decrease their ability to maintain a power structure or secure rewards for their work groups.
Front line employees can be expected to respond negatively to changes that affect the availability of rewards or the ability to obtain these rewards.
All may resist the notion of re-learning current processes or expected attitudes.
All of the above explain why change does not happen because email went out saying so. As my great HR Mentor David R. Williams often said to me as he advised me on my career path, “The King spoke and it was so” only worked in the Old Testament!
If we, as leaders, don’t understand the parameters of change, we can’t create and lead the proper interventions.
Here are some classic definitions, but definitions, while hinting at the truth, that I think fail to capture the full range of impacts leaders have to take into account:
- “Any conduct that serves to maintain the status quo in the face of pressure to alter the status quo.” (Goldberg, 1999)
- ”Employee behavior that seeks to challenge, disrupt, or invert prevailing assumptions, discourses, and power relations” (Folger & Skarlicki 1999)
- “Behavior which is intended to protect an individual from the effects of real or imagined change” (Alvin Zander 1950)
My definition of resistance (stolen from the pros!) and based on my experience
To me, resistance to change is focused around three independent, but interacting, sides of human nature: cognitive, emotions and behaviors. Let’s explore for a moment.
Negative thoughts or beliefs around change exist. But what is often labeled as resistance is often only reluctance. There is a huge difference between reluctance and resistance! Both can result in inaction and/or denial- “They say it will change, but I know it won’t.” I was once conducting a change intervention in a major manufacturing site in LA as it was shutting down as a result of the recession when I met a shift worker who had not yet told his spouse that he would be out of work in a few weeks. Denial of change is a natural reaction.
Cognitively we may simply be unready to change. Hence, many change programs raise awareness via change readiness assessments (and there is at least one Change Readiness app out now for iPhones and iPads).
Cognitively we will not want to see our status, pay, or comfort reduced. This is natural to our species.
Frustration and anxiety led to resistance, be it in a business process change or an emotional life changing event. Just not knowing the consequences of the change can lead to stress, and in extreme, but not uncommon events, to clinical depression.
The cognitive and emotional sides of us drive our behavior, from reluctance to aggression- busting into a bosses office to defend ourselves and then storming out, an event my buddy just told me about. Putting it off. Procrastinating. We have all done it!
Poor behaviors are symptoms of resistance, not the underlying causes. Faced with negative behaviors, leaders must sit back and reflect- What are the under lying causes? And if we had addressed these underlying cause, we would minimize negative behaviors!
A Key Life Learning- Change is not a set process of sequential steps, be it in our personal life or in the life of an organization. The process is universal, but there are many zig zags along the way. I consider the change map a road map with many secondary roads and we have choices which way we will travel and we have choices of what warning signs we will select to notice and act on, or ignore.
So what are six primary reasons for resistance to emerge?
Put a mental checkmark if you have experienced or know colleagues, friends or spouses who have experienced these reasons!
You and organizations (orgs are not boxes, they are people!) will resist if…
- The nature of the change is not made clear to the people who are going to be influenced by the change.
- The change is open to a wide variety of interpretations.
- Those influenced feel strong forces deterring them from changing.
- The people influenced by the change have pressure put on them to make it instead of having a say in the nature or the direction of the change.
- The change is made on personal grounds.
- The change ignores the already established institutions in the group.
How can we, as leaders, turn resistance around into a positive force?
1. Set yourself up for success! Conduct a stakeholder analysis with the change tools available.
2. Determine what makes folks tick and where they stand on the change curve. How and who can influence them? And how committed are the influencers? Are they willing to nod in agreement or are they willing to actively promote the change. There is a huge difference in change commitment.
3. Reduce the risk in the first place by inviting stakeholders in a problem analysis and brainstorming of multiple solutions. Humans naturally like choice. Remember that in the brainstorming process all ideas are put on the table first before you go back and discuss! Don’t kill the process before it has had a chance to build trust in the organization.
4. Walk yourself through the six reasons noted above and give yourself honest answers. Then ask a colleague to do the same. Compare and contrast your lists. I guarantee you that you will have different insights. The power of leading change is in your network and connections and how you communicate and share as colleagues and friends.
5. Reflect and then discuss with you your own trusted advisors the cognitive, emotional, and behaviors factors. Consider questions like
- Is this resistance or reluctance? Where is your evidence? What data are you looking at? (Remember- data eventually drives actions and you may be all looking at different data. Kudos to the key work of Peter Senge and his Ladder of Inference.
- How is status, pay, or comfort reduced?
- Why is there frustration and anxiety?
- What are the symptoms and what are the underlying causes?
6. Create a formal communication plan and hold yourself and others accountable to implement it on time and in full (OTIF). Capture key elements- who does what by when and how and where. The message has to be repeated in a standard way over various communication mediums. Remember- this is a learning activity at heart and we all have our individual learning style preferences.
7. Coach 1:1 your direct report. Remember, coaching is not telling or suggesting what someone should do. (That is bossing or consulting, depending on your point of view!) CA well trained coach leads others to see for themselves what makes them tick.
My challenge to you!
- Identify a change you envision about to happen. (Alternatively, consider a change you or your organization has been tough and apply these questions as an After Action Review.)
- Walk yourself through the five steps suggested above.
- Share your thoughts with a colleague.
- Where are you aligned? Misaligned? Why? What data are you both looking at?
- What is your Action Plan? Who will do what by when?
- How will you hold yourself accountable to deliver the result?
- What help or support do you need on your change journey? How can you secure the help you need to set yourself and your organization up for success?
- Write about it below. Share your thoughts about your change journey.
And have fun while you take up my challenge!