Resistance to the heat is futile!

Organizational change is a common, almost ubiquitous, feature in today’s business world. Change is known under many monikers, from transformation to creative destruction, and the variety of names is a portent to the one constant in any organizational change: resistance. Resistance is defined by Changing Minds as the action taken by individuals and groups when they perceive the change that is occurring as a threat to them.  Resisters come in many forms, including: * these are listed from the most problematic to least.

Naysayers – There are those in most organizations that have never met an idea or change that they like.  Naysayers will go out of their way (perhaps even habitually) to express negative or pessimistic views.  Naysayers don’t need a specific reason to be negative or pessimistic . . . they just are.  Naysayers are typically a cancer on an organization and need to be removed.

Enemies – Organizations are political environments.  Every change has to have a sponsor and there are often factions within the organization that are actively or passively struggling against the sponsor and her/her ideas.  Change programs are often large and important enough that a failure can severely negatively impact a career.  Leveraging the appropriate change sponsor is often needed to ensure that the proper pressure is provided to dampen internal political objections.

Indirect or Passive Aggressive Resister – The great O’Jay’s song “Back Stabbers” illustrated this form of resistance perfectly.  


(They smile in your face)
All the time they want to take your place
The back stabbers (back stabbers) (AZLyrics)

Use public commitments or public signing events to get the indirect or passive aggressive resistor to commit to the change even more openly.  Your goal is to increase the price they pay for resisting behind your back.

My Way or The Highway Resisters – This class of resister is not anti-change; rather they are for change if they are championing the idea and against if it is someone else’s idea.  Find a way to incorporate this type of resister into defining or implementing the change.  If they accept the role they will have to accept at least partial ownership of the change.

Committed to Current State Resisters – One the statements most often heard when discussing change is “we always do it this way.” There are many reasons people might be committed to the current process, ranging from fear of change in the organization’s social order, to lack of personal competence.  Diagnose the reason for the resistance and determine if the reason can be addressed.  People in this camp will be fairly easy to identify (they generally are not trying to hide), and can be leveraged to find the holes in new processes. Just be ready to hear why what is being proposed is not what is done today.

Not Convinced – This class of resister is often a reflection of a change program that has poorly communicated the rationale for a change and/or the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) component of change management. People truly in the “not convinced” category can be converted by personal interaction and communication.  Do not assume that communication and change management programs tailored to convince people will work for everyone. Say things many ways and many times!

While the Borg might believe that resistance is futile, no one has told the population of most organizations.  Resistance is inevitable.  Recognizing why it is happening starts by understanding who is resisting, but then has to get into the weeds.  The big idea here is that knowing the type of resistance you are facing is just step one of tackling a longer and more difficult problem.