Why People Resist Change And Essay

What's the Truth About Resistance to Change?

With the rate of technological growth, our Information Age, and the global economy, change is now the normal state of business. Organizational change does not come easy, however. Many organizational change efforts fail to reach their objectives.

Senior sponsors of the change often blame its failure on employee and middle manager resistance to change. At times, this is true. More often, however, senior leaders and managers over-estimate how much change they can force on the organization. Some also do not understand how difficult it is to lead and implement change effectively.

Leading and implementing change requires people skills!

People in an organization will always evaluate the benefit of any change. Will the change make their organizational lives better? Or, will the change make their lives worse? Click To Tweet

As I coach managers on their change management efforts, I explain that resistance to change is rarely irrational. Keep in mind that if your employees (or even your peers or boss) are resisting your change efforts, their resistance comes from a perspective that makes perfect sense to them.

This is because of the following truth about change:

People do not resist change that they believe is in their best interests. Click To Tweet

8 Reasons Why People Resist Change

In practice, there are 8 common reasons why people resist change:

(1) Loss of status or job security in the organization

It is not our nature to make changes that we view as harmful to our current situation. In an organizational setting, this means employees, peers, and managers will resist administrative and technological changes that result in their role being eliminated or reduced. From their perspective, your change is harmful to their place in the organization!

Forcing a change on others has its place. Over time, however, when this is the only approach that you use to make change, you'll find that your change results suffer. If you overuse this approach, you will harm your  effectiveness over the long term as others will find direct and indirect ways to resist you. Without a thoughtful change strategy to address resistance to change, you will trigger strong resistance and organizational turnover.

(2) Poorly aligned (non-reinforcing) reward systems

There is a common business saying that managers get what they reward. Organizational stakeholders will resist change when they do not see any rewards.

When working with managers, I will ask them, Where is the reward to employees for implementing your change?

Without a reward, there is no motivation for your team to support your change over the long term. This often means that organizational reward systems must be altered in some way to support the change that you want to implement. The change does not have to always be major or costly. Intrinsic rewards are very powerful motivators in the workplace that are non-monetary.

(3) Surprise and fear of the unknown

The less your team members know about the change and its impact on them, the more fearful they will become. Leading change also requires not springing surprises on the organization! Your organization needs to be prepared for the change.

In the absence of continuing two-way communication with you, grapevine rumors fill the void and sabotage the change effort. In fact, ongoing communication is one of your most critical tools for handling resistance to change. But, it's not just telling! The neglected part of two-way communication — listening — is just as powerful.

Change that is poorly communicated will only stir up organizational resistance. Click To Tweet

(4) Peer pressure.

Whether we are introverted or extroverted, we are still social creatures. Organizational stakeholders will resist change to protect the interests of a group.

You might see this among some of your team members who feel compelled to resist your change to protect their co-workers. If you're a senior executive or middle manager, your managers who report to you may will resist your change effort to protect their work groups.

As the psychologist Abraham Maslow discussed, the need to belong to a group is a powerful need in the workplace. If your change effort threatens these workplace social bonds, some of your team members may resist your change effort.

(5) Climate of mistrust

Meaningful organizational change does not occur in a climate of mistrust. Trust, involves faith in the intentions and behavior of others. Mutual mistrust will doom an otherwise well-conceived change initiative to failure.

If you are trying to implement your change effort in an environment where most of the people working with you mistrust each other, you'll have limited success. You'll need to spend some time rebuilding trust if you want better results from your change effort.

Trust is a fragile asset that is easily harmed.

It's hard to get employees to support the changes that leadership wants to make when all that the employees see for themselves are negative consequences. Click To Tweet

(6) Organizational politics

Some resist change as a political strategy to “prove” that the decision is wrong. They may also resist to show that the person leading the change is not up to the task. Others may resist because they will lose some power in the organizational. In these instances, these individuals are committed to seeing the change effort fail.

Sometimes when I work with managers they become frustrated with the political resistance that they encounter from others. Political obstacles are frustrating when you are trying to implement needed change. My advice to you is to acknowledge what you are feeling and then take positive steps to counter the organizational resistance you are facing.

Politics in organizations are a fact of life!

(7) Fear of failure

Sweeping changes on the job can cause your team members to doubt their capabilities to perform their duties. What is known is comfortable! Your team members may be resisting these changes because they are worried that they cannot adapt to new work requirements.

Fear is a powerful motivator that can harden people's intent to resist your efforts to implement change. If you want your change effort to be successful, you'll need to help your team members move beyond these fears.

(8) Faulty Implementation Approach (Lack of tact or poor timing)

Sometimes it is not what a leader does, but it is how s/he does it that creates resistance to change! Undue resistance can occur because changes are introduced in an insensitive manner or at an awkward time.

In other words, people may agree with the change that you want to implement but they may not agree with how you are going about making the change.

For any significant organizational change effort to be effective, you'll need a thoughtful strategy and a thoughtful implementation approach to address these barriers.

So, the next time you hear someone say that people naturally resist change explain to them that this is a myth.  We change all of the time.

Still Unconvinced That People Do Not Naturally Resist Change?

OK, you're making me work hard here! Consider the following story that I share in my leadership training:

After the end of a tough week in the office, you arrive home and eat a quick meal and collapse on your bed. Early the next morning, you check your mailbox and find that you have a registered letter at the postal office. You get annoyed and reluctantly get dressed to go pick up this "special letter" on what is supposed to be your day off.

On the way there, you say to yourself that this better not be another trick sales offer from that vendor trying to sell you something for your house.  You arrive at the postal office  and you stand in line for what seems like forever.  You finally get to the representative who has your mail and you grumble that you are here to pick up a registered letter. 

He gets your letter and when you look at it you can't believe what you have received. You say to yourself that this can't be what you think it is. You start visibly shaking as you quickly open the letter.

As you read the letter, your whole attitude changes. You go from being grumpy to being excited. By the time you get to the end of the letter you are jumping up and down and yelling with delight. You just won a national sweepstakes contest and the award is one million dollars.

Now I have just one question for you:

Are you going to resist this change?

People do not resist change that they believe is in their best interests. Click To Tweet

Organizational change – Reasons why people resist change

Expecting resistance to change and planning for it from the start of your change management progamme will allow you to effectively manage objections.

Understanding the most common reasons people object to change gives you the opportunity to plan your change strategy to address these factors.

It’s not possible to be aware of all sources of resistance to change. Expecting that there will be resistance to change and being prepared to manage it is a proactive step. Recognizing behaviors that indicate possible resistance will raise awareness of the need to address the concerns.

Classic psychological reactions to change


At the end of the day all sources of resistance to change need to be acknowledged and people’s emotions validated.

It’s far better to anticipate objections than to spend your time putting out fires, and knowing how to overcome resistance to change is a vital part of any change management plan.

Top 12 typical reasons for resistance to change

  1. Misunderstanding about the need for change/when the reason for the change is unclear — If staff do not understand the need for change you can expect resistance. Especially from those who strongly believe the current way of doing things works well…and has done for twenty years!
  2. Fear of the unknown— One of the most common reasons for resistance is fear of the unknown. People will only take active steps toward the unknown if they genuinely believe – and perhaps more importantly, feel – that the risks of standing still are greater than those of moving forward in a new direction
  3. Lack of competence — This is a fear people will seldom admit. But sometimes, change in organizations necessitates changes in skills, and some people will feel that they won’t be able to make the transition very well
  4. Connected to the old way — If you ask people in an organization to do things in a new way, as rational as that new way may seem to you, you will be setting yourself up against all that hard wiring, all those emotional connections to those who taught your audience the old way – and that’s not trivial
  5. Low trust— When people don’t believe that they, or the company, can competently manage the change there is likely to be resistance
  6. Temporary fad — When people belief that the change initiative is a temporary fad
  7. Not being consulted — If people are allowed to be part of the change there is less resistance. People like to know what’s going on, especially if their jobs may be affected. Informed employees tend to have higher levels of job satisfaction than uninformed employees
  8. Poor communication — It’s self evident isn’t it? When it comes to change management there’s no such thing as too much communication
  9. Changes to routines — When we talk about comfort zones we’re really referring to routines. We love them. They make us secure. So there’s bound to be resistance whenever change requires us to do things differently
  10. Exhaustion/Saturation — Don’t mistake compliance for acceptance. People who are overwhelmed by continuous change resign themselves to it and go along with the flow. You have them in body, but you do not have their hearts. Motivation is low
  11. Change in the status quo — Resistance can also stem from perceptions of the change that people hold. For example, people who feel they’ll be worse off at the end of the change are unlikely to give it their full support. Similarly, if people believe the change favours another group/department/person there may be (unspoken) anger and resentment
  12. Benefits and rewards — When the benefits and rewards for making the change are not seen as adequate for the trouble involved

Expecting resistance to change and planning for it from the start of your change management progamme will allow you to effectively manage objections. Not dealing proactively is one pitfall – but there are many other common mistakes.

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