Overcoming Resistance to Change

This is a simple model that looks at different approaches to change resistance. I developed it during a series of change workshops for a manufacturing company in the aftermath of a recession. Managers had realised they wanted to further explore and experience the issue of why and how people resist change. Their default tended to be the directive approach. Trying the other approaches took them into new and uncomfortable territory!

The Directive Approach

The Aim: 100% Compliance and functional commitment, regardless of emotional buy-in

The Approach: A Clear Description of the Goal of the Decision or Change, its context, the required compliance, and the formal consequences of non-compliance

– putting the ‘what’ of the decision/change clearly and in a way that is not open to doubt

– giving the clear context, or “why” of the decision, and making it clear that the context is not open to discussion

– outlining the tasks required with any time-scales or resource commitments, expectations and the formal disciplinary procedures related to non-compliance

– ensuring the change/decision is legally enforceable and represents best practice management

– ensuring that the agreement is “signed up to” in whatever way is deemed appropriate

– clear milestones and measures where necessary

– ensuring appropriate training and education (compulsory) is given where needed to make the change happen

The Basic Requirements: Formal authority and backing to implement the decision and enact the consequences

Positive Realisation through: Clear, calm assertiveness, an objective description of context, goal, actions and consequences, an ability to state instructions and orders confidently, consistently and persistently, an air of authority

Negative Realisation through: Unconfident, emotional, nervous attempts to be assertive, use of bullying language and gestures, language which is received as threatening, a sense that the authority comes from someone or somewhere else, the gaining of minimal and unclear compliance, exaggerated consequences and authority that cannot be backed up later

The Coaching Approach

The Aim: 100% Compliance and emotional buy-in creating a wish to enact and support  the change or decision

The Approach: A Clear Description of the Goal of the Decision or Change, its context, the required compliance, and the formal consequences of non-compliance, but based on an attempt to persuade, deal with concerns and “teach” the importance of the change, in order to gain a mature understanding and acceptance of it

The basic requirements: An ability to deal with concerns and questions, to persuade, to guide people with concerns towards confidence, with confusion towards clarity, with questions towards answers

– putting the “why” of the decision in a clear and inspiring way linking it clearly to the “what of the decision”

– being open to questions and concerns but then moving to a place of agreement and commitment

– guiding people towards understanding by allowing time for discussion and being open to suggestions and input, but being clear what the fixed aspects of the decision are from the start

– setting up milestones and check-in points where performance can be monitored and further guidance can be given (formally or informal training)

– focusing particularly on any concerns that might surface as resistance and preventing these by brining them out in the open from the start and dealing with them; being prepared to negotiate a little

– identifying the difference between genuine resistance and fear or lack of confidence

Positive Realisation through: Using all the knowledge and information, experience and authority to guide someone towards commitment, using inspirational presentation, “firing” people up for the change, being a teacher, a persuader, setting the context in a way that helps people see why the change is needed and why their commitment is necessary to it, providing the right information in the right way. Milestones, measures and consequences are accepted as part of good management of the change.

Negative Realisation through: Pressurising, lecturing, guiding people with a heavy hand, making people feel bullied or threatening, doing too much talking and not enough listening, coaching dressed up as dictatorship. Or, on the other hand the coaching is weak, the guiding unclear, plenty of room for doubt and confusion is left, nothing is agreed on paper, the “coach” is more of a friend than a guide.

The Mentoring Approach

The Aim: Compliance, buy-in, and a sense of ownership of the change or decision

The Approach: Employees “invent” or “reinvent” the change for themselves, they are encouraged to discuss the change, explore it, they are given a lot of information, context, reasons why, and, through their own thinking =, reflection, questions and discussion they see the sense of the change and want to commit to it freely

The basic requirements: This takes more time, and will require a lot of persuasion, inspiration, openness and a willingness to take on board the concerns and worries of others; where some aspects of the change are fixed, these must be offered through respectful debate and attempts made to reach consensus

– ‘consensus’ is where someone agrees to NOT stand in the way of a decision or change, and, even though they might not agree with it, they fully commit to it

– asking a lot of questions is key – the idea is to help others arrive at their own conclusion that this change is necessary

– if we believe the change makes sense, we trust others to use their own common sense to believe it too, without needing to be either directed or “nudged” – we mentor them by helping their process of thinking and reflection asking questions, encouraging reflection, discussing the “big picture”, debating the “what” and the “why”

Positive Realisation through: A real skill of empowering others to “invent” the change through skilled facilitation of the discussion; we arrive at common sense; the manager acts as a facilitator of change, where people feel a sense of ownership because they have arrived on their own at the “Aha!” moment. Plenty of time for discussion and reflection; skilled, informal presentation of the case for change and a real “call to arms” that people join in and make it happen; a sense of shared ownership of the change. Milestones, measures and consequences are not sees as a stick to beat us with, but a tool to help us know whether we are on the right track and achieving goals.

Negative Realisation through: Use of “facipulation” – manipulative facilitation, people are not given the whole picture, they “buy in” based on false or exaggerated promises of the change, even lies are told sometimes just because the change manager is too scared to risk the truth, or doesn’t have the confidence to present something clearly and calmly, so they default to a kind of “sales pitch”. Also too much is given away in the process of gaining commitment, so people commit to the change at the start but there is no sense of monitoring, milestones and measures.

So, each approach requires a different skill set and will be appropriate in different situations. It is important to be in a state of flexibility,  enquiring into what is needed in the particular scenario.


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