Most ineffective methods to deal with resistance.

22 May 2018

Resistance is inherent to change

author picture Article written by Vincent Piedboeuf

Resistance is inherent to change. It may emerge at every stage of a project lifecycle and when left unchecked, ripple effects are usually devastating. Before things spin out of control, you might want to take stock of the lessons to be drawn from adverse scenarios. That’s right! Here is a list of the don’ts.

Worst practice #1: Treating it as a non-issue.

This may sound like a paradox, but ignoring resistance only adds fuel to the fire. What was once considered as a non-issue becomes a pressing priority as resistance spreads rapidly across the organisation. So much so that resistance is cited among the top obstacles to Change Management, along with lack of sponsorship, Change Management buy-in and prioritisation[1] (PROSCI 2018).

What to do instead: As a rule of thumb, expect resistance whenever the status quo is threatened. Be proactive. Address the issue head-on by identifying its potential root causes and building buy-in among impacted groups[2]. The lack of awareness of why the change is being made is a top cause for resistance (PROSCI 2013 study)[3]. A powerful “why” is therefore the best driver there is.  

Worst practice #2: Mass-mailing and … done.

Unilateral approaches to communicating change, be it through the use of mass emails, memos, newsletters and speeches, have proved highly ineffective. This is quite self-explanatory considering that such a choice ignores the basics of effective communication. It is vital to tailor the message to the target-audience and establish mechanisms allowing for close feedback loops. Not only should people understand why the change is important, they must have a clear understanding of its implications and benefits at the individual level (“What’s in it for me” or WIIFM). Creating a desire for change beyond initial awareness comes at a price. And spamming the whole staff with unidirectional standardised messages won’t do the trick. 

What to do instead: Change Management takes consistent communication efforts, not a general stand-alone event and a handful of emails. Communication channels matter as much as frequency. Business and strategy-related messages are expected to be conveyed by senior leaders. Managers are preferred interlocutors to get frontline employees on board and address WIIFM issues. They play a pivotal role as their proximity to the “field” allows for fluid one-on-one dialogue and effective coaching.

Worst practice #3: Using the carrot and stick approach.

Pain and fear are certainly powerful incentives in their own right. They can ensure short term compliance. Effects observed on longer periods of time are less impressive, though. Fear-mongering and wielding the stick at people may easily backfire. As resistances go underground, they slip under the radar, thus creating a very opaque resistance culture. Along with a dramatic drop in engagement, expect distrust, absenteeism, decline in morale and brain-drain as the brightest take themselves off. Performance-wise, this is a very gloomy prospect.

What to do instead: The crux of the problem is to build buy-in and maximise engagement. A positive outlook on change and rewarding system can ensure long-lasting support. It is one thing to kick start the change. It is quite another to build sustainable change. Focusing on the fear and pain of not changing should be a last resort or applied whenever the organisational culture somehow calls for this type of tactics.

Worst practice #4: Just telling them.

Change Management takes more than declarations. It is highly unlikely that people will throw themselves into working towards a goal for the sake of it. Worse still, the mere injunction to change, if not backed up by an action plan and fully embraced by those who advocate it, may trigger immediate resistances across the organisation. Individual transitions are the building blocks of change and take place sequentially. It boils down to ensuring that everyone is positively inclined towards the change, well-equipped and stay motivated throughout and beyond the transition. So, prepare to do a lot of legwork to make the change effective.

What to do instead: Managing individual transitions through a structured approach is a key part of dealing with the change. Skip one step and the project will get bogged down in a mire of vague actions taken here and there. It is of utmost importance to make sure people are aware of the need to change (Awareness) and willing to take up the challenge (Desire) before they are provided with the right tools and training (Knowledge and Ability). Likewise, reinforcement (R) activities are crucial to prevent retrograde moves.


[1] PROSCI (2018), The top 5 obstacles to Change Management [online]

[2] For further reading about dealing with resistance, see Halluent V. (2017), Managing in uncertain times [online]

[3] PROSCI (2018) in text-references, The top obstacles to Change Management [online]

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