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resistance to change Archives - Garrett's Change Management Blog

Again with the Resistance Thing?

The “perfect” resistance quote (perfect change management group think):

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

Not going to list the source, not fair to pick on one person involved in groupthink.

No. Not. Wrong!

Shortest post completed.

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Wonderfully Disillusioned- The Resistors

Do you have a few people, or maybe just one, in your organization that cause(s) people to warn others of their presence?

“Watch out for ___ (s)he always does ___”

Every single initiative I have been on has one of those people. It is fun to count the number of stakeholders that come to warn me about certain individuals (the record so far is 6 people quietly warning me about the same person). Can you imagine being that person who has a forewarning wave that precedes their arrival to everything? If you ARE that person of course you can’t imagine (if you could you would not be that way).

Can you imagine going through life being the difficult one?

Again, I know, I am preaching to the choir. And you “resistors” are just saying, “la, la, la, la, la… I can’t hear you…..”. There are people in this world that are VERY difficult. There are people who carry expectations that no one can figure out (that is usually part of the forewarn warning). There are people who insist on making the world their way. And THAT makes me very disillusioned.

But just for a second, take a breath and think to yourself… “maybe Joe or Josephine resistor is onto something”. Maybe, just maybe, they have some valid points. Maybe the reason they are so obnoxious is because no one listens to them. Maybe they yell and scream because they do not take the time to articulate their points (raising your voice to someone who speaks a different language never works for understanding). Maybe we should cut them a little slack?

Enter the (effective) Change Management Practitioner

These people are the stakeholders you need to start talking to- rather than running away from.

Those people who warn you? What are the odds that they are also resisting in some way?

One of the strong points of good leaders/guiders of change is their ability to ask questions. Expertise in that area is the ability to re-ask in a different way to gain understanding. Yes, you may go through many rounds with these types of stakeholders. Yes, you may have to spend more time than you would like building a little trust. And yes, you may have to be very careful- there are a few resistors out there that are exactly that, saboteurs.

Take that time though. Ask the right questions. Find out why they are so passionate about the negative. Get to the root of their emotion. You will find a wealth of background information for this particular change (and for the politics of the organization). The results are, frankly, WONDERFUL. Do this and you may just be WONDERFULLY DISILLUSIONED.

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Wonderfully Disillusioned- Capacity for Change

Here’s where we are with change management as of 2/13/13: There are consultants, not many and not the original gurus, who have been on quite a few initiatives. Some of those engagements are much the same, some different. They have matured (the consultants not necessarily the projects) and so has their approach.

There are a lot of consultants and a lot of models that show immature change management. This is not necessarily the consultants fault, they may “mature” to a better perspective and approach. (I am sure I must have pushed and shoved until I learned otherwise).

The immature approach, the “I got certified now I can practice change on you” disillusions me. It is very hard to fight the battle against marketing, ease and doing things the way organizations want (which usually get change no where).

The I-have-been-through-change-before thing is not just with consultants. It is now showing up with stakeholders. Change often causes movement of people from one place to the next. And then it happens again. Those who have travelled have experienced big organizational change more than once. It is often the same and sometimes different.

So the wonderful?

People have an incredible capacity for change. I think it is safe to say EVERYONE has capacity for change. Sometimes that capacity has so much leeway that change is just a process, not some horrible set of events that must be resisted.

At a client sight the project team went through a start-to-finish explanation (with the end state as the starting point and then the end to end flow of process as the big picture). Then they took separate pieces and showed the work flow. (Big picture, end states, work in context, this is what is different- the RIGHT way to present change).

The wonderful part of this example: one presenter showed the end state process for a specific thing then showed exactly how that would work today. Then explicitly showed- to the stakeholders effected- the one thing that will be different before the new process is fully implemented.

This is wonderful. Show the big picture, create context. Follow that with the behavior that will be needed to get that to happen. Work in context with a whole.

The reaction from the stakeholders? Bright eyes, thumbs up and a thank you. It doesn’t get any better than that.

If they had thrown the new thing at these stakeholders with a confusing new interface presented to the room without the initial explanation…I would be giving you the disillusioned example. (I have a LOT of these).

People have tremendous capacity for change. In fact if you do this change management thing right you do not even have to worry about borrowing from that capacity bank. For that I am wonderfully disillusioned.

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Is there a word that sounds any more like sticking you neck in the sand, or digging your feet in, or just plain being obnoxiously stubborn?

:characterized by refusal to compromise or to abandon an extreme position or attitude


The last US congress, the 112th, became the “dictionary definition” of this word with their inability to pass anything of substance (with a whole lot of wacky ideas pawned off as substantive). (What are the odds the 113th will be any different?).

This word is one of those words that is used with change incorrectly. Well maybe not this BIG word, usually it’s the synonym resistance. (Funny intransigence only has three more letters than resistance and yet my kids would say it is one of those BIG words- as in hard to learn and hard to remember the definition for… let alone spell). When one person thinks something should go one way and another is unwilling to go that way I do not think there is necessarily intransigence on the part of the second party (or resistance).

Intransigence might be an extreme example of resistance. Resistance does not have to have a position (it will certainly develop an attitude though). Resistance tends to be a desire to just stand still (or carry on as usual) when it comes to change. If intransigence was to refuse someone else’s position we might have a change word.

In almost all of the cases of “resistance” I see (or situations where another consultant would look for ways to reduce “resistance”) there is a very good reason for not participating- when the world is seen from the “resistors” viewpoint. It might be history that reduces trust, or structure that will not accommodate the change, or lack of prioritization that means it is mathematically impossible to add in or just an idea that does not make sense.

There is ALWAYS a reason to be resistant. And there may always be a reason for intransigence. For that person with their feet dug in, certainly.

When it comes to change don’t get all riled up about intransigence or the lighter form of resistance. Find out why. Change something else before you try to change the intransigent/resistant person.

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Sidelining Resistors


Yesterday’s post, “Mad at the World” leads us into this post.

Heather Stagl adds some perspective with, “Sidelining Those Who Don’t Play Nice With Change”. She started the sports metaphor, I will add my personal twist.

As a coach for my girls’ soccer teams I know the value of a sideline with a comfortable bench. It is the place I bring a girl to when she is not participating. It’s the place where the improving talent sits. It is the place where the extra plans that feed into the game are created. It is where a minute level of tactics takes place. It is a spot there someone sitting can root on the team. It is where people laugh, scream and cry.

I have learned:

You can make that sitting spot a rotating thing. If it is the same people sitting there all the time, is the team getting any better? You might be winning some games, but what if you lose one of the players that is out on the field (to injury, unwillingness to participate on a certain day or those tears that come up in life)? There will be a game later, I guarantee you, where you will need EVERYONE at their best.

Heather’s change sidelining is “setting people aside for a bit”. I may be doing the same with my teams (certainly when they have decided not to really participate on any given day). We may want to take the version Heather explained and combine it with mine for three different approaches- one to set them aside, one to use the bench strategically to build and lastly to do the two together as a bigger, broader plan.

So with change:

  • Do not automatically sideline someone because you think they will resist. As hard as it is to believe, every day is a new day- even for resistors. It just takes someone to make that new day visible and possible.
  • Do not take away the opportunity for anyone, even the best player, to sit on the bench a bit. It is a different view there. It is a different level of connection to the change/game and it might be closer to the coach.
  • Use the bench to develop skill, competency and understanding. Yes, two of those three things need application. Those two are stronger with the third which sometimes requires a sideline sit.
  • For some things, as a practitioner or change leader, you might want to consider sitting on the bench yourself for a bit. I took a five minute silent period as a coach of my daughters team at a recent game. I saw and learned more in that five minutes than I have all season about me as a coach, my team, my players and the game itself. Works for change too.

The sideline can be your friend in sports and with change. Think of it as both a time-out spot and the foundation for growth and participation.

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Mad at the World


Do you know someone who is Mad at the World?

This takes on many different forms:

  • Mad because they haven’t gotten over something from the past.
  • Mad because they think they never get any breaks.
  • Mad because people do not pay attention to them.
  • Mad because they do not feel good/ are unhealthy (physically).
  • Mad because someone (Dad? Mom? Nasty Uncle?) taught them to be that way.
  • Mad because they do everything right and everyone else is useless.
  • Mad because they are never in the situation they want to be.
  • Mad because it feels good.

There’s more, but listing them is making me a little irritated.

What do all of these bullets have in common?

This person in your life that you are thinking of, is inward (until they display the madness), likely has little real control of their surroundings and is heavily influenced (in a mad sort of way) by their environment.

Do you see the circle?

Allow me to generalize. These people tend to take on roles where everything can be completely controlled OR they choose careers that serve. Think HR and Long tenured teachers. (Yes there are happy HR people and teachers- I needed an example to relate to).

Take charge of this Mad People!

  • There are ways to get over the past (conversation, friends, hobbies, professional help).
  • The only people who TRULY get free breaks are trust fund babies. Everyone else has to work and work smart in order to be in the right place at the right time for breaks (and “luck”).
  • Good deeds, good work, exceptional talent and effort tend to get rewarded. If you are not getting that you are either not paying attention or not really doing any of those four things.
  • No doubt you do not feel good. Anger is like 5 cups of coffee- an exhilarating high that crashes like a tsunami. It’s nice outside- go for a walk. Now do that at least every other day. Do not stop at the breadbasket along the way.
  • Mom or Dad or the nasty Uncle, while still hanging around in your head, do not live with you anymore. You do not wake up in the same house with them. Address that inward thing for this one. Start looking around. There HAS to be something good within view. If not move to a different spot (yes two meanings there) and look again. Rinse and repeat.
  • Are you sure you do everything right? Because if you are not then how would you know everyone else is useless?
  • Even those who spend a lifetime trying to get themselves to the spot they want to be will still never know when they have arrived. The only final destination is a last breath. You actually ARE in the situation you wanted to be… in some ways. We are not entirely without choice in life; destiny has many paths. Unless you are mad all the time. It is impossible to make smart decisions when you are mad. So you may be right about the wrong place thing.
  • This one is the nastiest. I swear people who are mad at the world are happier when they are mad. That makes my stomach hurt just thinking about it. I saw a study a ways back (no idea where it was, but this totally makes sense) that showed people who get mad a lot get their body trained to release hormones, like endorphins the fun one, when they are mad. So yes they are happier mad. And the process to switch that has now become a chemical one.

This, of course, does have to do with change.

Those “resistors” are very often mad-at-the-world-people. None of us as practitioners have the time to help them with all of these bullets, or the many left off the list. What we can do is try to pull them out of their shell early on. Pay a little attention to them. Show them the successes of others. Take a walk with them and just talk- about them. Get them to acknowledge their anger/resistance in some innocuous way. Then cross our fingers they jump on board or fade into the background…

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Over Communicating the Right Way

You often hear the mantra, “communicate, communicate, communicate” as if you cannot over-communicate.

You can.

If you inundate (your “lots of communication” is likely your stakeholders flood) your stakeholders with communication they will quickly find the delete key or that special selective listening button inside all of our heads.

You absolutely can over-communicate.

AND you can over-communicate the right way.

The Right Way

Over-communicating the right way means finding those things that are important to stakeholders that you might miss in your effort to disseminate communication. The Right Way means finding the connections between the change, people, work and the business of the organization.

The Right Way means going beyond all the regular avenues of communication to in person and face to face.

If you are going to ‘over communicate’ do that by disseminating first then interacting in person or at least face to face. Your over communication in that case will be the relaying back of the original information enhanced by real interaction.

Over communicate by using multiple forms of media- spoken, written, video, audio etc.

My best example of over communication  is consultants that gather information connected to their work, but not expected. They are able to provide background and perspective from different angles.

Over communicate in the right way- by adding the things that stakeholders need to hear (not just what you think they should hear).

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The Effects of the Stoplight for Change

ChangeStoplightThe Stoplight Effect is the new day number one for horizontalchange.

‘Wonder why that is?

Maybe it hits a nerve for some of the things that happen in organizations that we just assume make sense and, really do not (this one on multiple levels)? Maybe it is just the strangest, busiest day in three years of this blog?

Let’s dig a little deeper because the Stoplight Effect is what happens when red, yellow and green become decision points.

  • Green means go, except that it usually does not
  • Red means stop… for awhile
  • Yellow means…

Green means go, except that it usually does not

First how did you get this green “measure”?

A few examples I have seen (supporting the comical nature of this effect):

  • A meeting of senior leaders who fill out the stoplight for different groups (no the groups are not represented in the meeting).
  • A change practitioner who just does it on their own.
  • The PMO, because they love the stoplight thing, does it on their own in whatever mysterious manner they use.
  • The use of a Likert scale (you do realize a Likert scale, 3 or more commonly 5 choices from bad to good, [red to green later] are constructed to eliminate outliers… think about it, red and green especially, are outliers…).

Who are the green people? (hint: the project team and the change team are stakeholders…).

What if something happens during the change or project process that muddies the green into a brown approaching red. Does anyone measure changes to the stoplight in the WRONG direction?

I am being unfair here- change standup comedy- do the internal stoplight creators have a discussion in their annual performance meeting about the number of reds they made green? Does their pay get docked if greens turned to red?

Red means stop… for awhile

Thankfully for the change people who are really paying attention to all of the goofy things being presented as change management lately there is a bright spot here.

Reds can become green.

It helps if you realize that your stop at the light allows someone else to carry on. At the next light someone will play it forward for you.

I have come up with some great ideas at red lights, started good conversations with passengers, taken a quick loving peek at my kids in the back. A red light, in the car, or for change, is not a bad thing, necessarily.

Red has a lot to do with how questions are asked and perception. Perception when it comes to change often has a lot to do with trust. Exactly what is that stoplight measuring? Any chance no matter how the questions are worded underlying themes will dictate the response?

That is why we have real change management in the first place. We tend to uncover, quickly, those themes. And boy do the stoplight fanatics hate that!

Yellow means…

Speed up or slow down?

I drive a heavy truck (my Prius turned out to be one of the few lemons) so slowing down, with gas prices where they are, is painful. Officially, in a car, yellow probably means slow down.

For change yellow just means a stakeholder does not want to commit. (Or comically, the Likert scale killed the greens- reds can be pretty pervasive and beat out the scale).

I would be pretty happy to have almost all the stakeholders, short of the go go greens on the team, be yellow. That means we will HAVE to have dialogue. That means there are no reds to go hunting for when no ones looking (basic change management loves to stir up the forest and hunt down the reds). Yellow means things will move slower than they would have otherwise.

Yellow is good for change.

To be fair: The stoplight thing can be used by those project managers, and is extensively, to measure the level of completion for tasks. It makes for a nice indicator of where things stand. Hmm…isn’t that subjective too?

The Stoplight Effect is what you get when a red, yellow, green scale is used to illustrate something subjective. It is an “oxymoronic process”- seems like it makes sense and graphically shows “readiness” except that it really doesn’t. Use it with a smile if you are external (you billed for all that time). If you are a client or a leader it might make sense to question this practice.

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More on End State Focus for Change

Change Management End State Focus from the day I wrote it and every day since, is the most popular Horizontal Change Management post. Admittedly it could be because people seem to image search for “caterpillar to butterfly”. Even stripping away that desire it trumps all others.

goldfish jumping out of the water

The caterpillar has no choice but to change- destiny.

This perky fish, does.

(Don’t you just want to BE that fish, take a big jump and yell, “Woo-Hoo” before you splash into your change?).

That is the point of an End State Focus.

By  seeing the future (narrow it down to goal[s] if that helps) you are giving yourself a choice. By describing end states early, for organizational change, you are leveraging your strategy, planning and effort to a better spot.

Our metamorphosis compared to the wily fish might be two extremes of the spectrum (although no one is forcing the caterpillar into anything). In most change there will be someone, or group, who does not have much choice. It is far less than those resistance fighting models would have you believe.

As soon as, the instant you, focus on the present in terms of that future, you will have difficulties. You will have push back. You will have, yes, some form of resistance. You will need to mediate, moderate and compromise. You will need to listen and put yourself in others shoes (good luck when you just lined up your thinking around you and your present). As soon as you bring in the present things get tough for change management.

So why would you start with that?

With an End State Focus (the way I have been describing it for the last few years) you take up front time to see the end, to define and feel that, to work your way back through what that process might look like (seeing missing pieces along the way) to, eventually, get to the present. If this process, in an organization, can be measured in months (with questions, assessments, surveys and interaction with stakeholders) then by the time you get to the present your are ready for the difficulties of the previous paragraph.

Fair warning: SOMEONE has to be the keeper of the end state focus and this approach. EVERYONE would be better. This is not an easy thing to do (and very easy to poo-poo as simple semantics). Every meeting, every interaction without the keepers will fall into a “woe is me” discussion about the impossibility of change. I am not talking about “champions” here- not the place for cheerleaders.

Fight the woe-is-me (or call it resistance and model it) and you will constantly address symptoms instead of root causes. An End State Focus ALWAYS reveals root causes. The opposite approach? Not so much. In fact those approaches tend to push aside root causes as impossible to fix.

Fish or caterpillar?

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The Change Management Pivot Point


For every change initiative, it seems, there is a pivot point.

One thing is crucial for end state success. Without that one thing status quo just gets moved around to look different. Everyone dances around the pivot point afraid to touch it. Or everyone comes up with a long list of excuses not to insert a pivot point that is new or replaces something else in order to facilitate the change.

Some pivot points I have seen:

  1. Organization at a high enough level makes the decision to stop customization of technology.
  2. Front end pull software to erase the effects of email noise.
  3. Two executives, rather than just the owner, fully participate and are visible for the change.
  4. A low level leader stakeholder comes up with an idea that can fully facilitate the change.
  5. Executives switch responsibilities for a period of time to show connection (and be connected) to the change.

I see this list when made into subheadings illustrates some very important aspects of change management:


Customization (and its cousin creating in house) usually works in the moment and then comes back to haunt. Announcing zero customizations for the next change (upgrade, process change, etc.) is a pivot point. Because of that decision many things have to be different. If you cave and go with only one or two customizations you lose your pivot point.

In this case the pivot point not only allows the end state to move closer to possibility it also sets in motion review of business process which typically reveals dollar savings and overlap throughout the organization.

Without the pivot point of “out of the box” or aligned with initial change description the path becomes littered with individual road blocks (for those change forcers who seem to miss [or ignore] root causes this is called “resistance”).


Sometimes something needs to be inserted, added or put in as a replacement.

Email has created noise. People have a habit of deleting emails without really absorbing the content. A fantastic pivot point is the addition of screen saver notifications to stakeholders. If the process is tightly controlled and the landing spot for extra information is inviting this is a huge pivot point for both organizational communication and change initiatives (and both together).

Do a big giant communication project with email as the delivery tool and you will likely have miscommunication, confusion and a difficult path toward change.

This pivot point has the added possible effect of creating a reusable, sustainable communication flow (and even loop) that saves time, money and effort.


There are many change initiatives that just will not work without a partnership.

The collaboration and genuine participation (two owners effectively- and maybe literally if they share the budget pot) of two senior executives is a pivot point for many changes. Without the true involvement of that second leader the change moves in spurts and stops.


To get things to move for change it helps to have a catalyst.

When someone within the change comes up with an idea that is truly innovative and practically makes sense on the business side a pivot point exists. Take that idea, illustrate who came up with it and then bring in others at different levels to work on the implementation of that idea and you have change that is evolutionary.

Ignore one or two great ideas, especially if they are obvious pivot points, and you will find some stakeholders not at all enthused about your change.


This pivot point was the most interesting I have seen.

An organization wanted more collaboration. They wanted executives working together and they wanted that modeled for the rest of the organization. And they were all on board at the highest levels.

They realized they needed to understand each other to both make their change work and to get good at the same empathy for their stakeholders.

So they switched roles.

In pairs they exchanged some responsibilities connected to both the change and operational process. They LITERALLY had to stand in someone else’s shoes. (This is the plot of about a gazillion movies, but this was real).

Needles to say, since they stuck with this leadership pivot point, the change was very successful. It was the closest I have seen a change initiative get to the end state (because of course that morphs as you go along).


It is important to look and see if you have a pivot point in your change. Every change seems to have that one thing that if not done, added or eliminated will really not be successful. It could be customization, technology, collaboration, leadership, innovation or something cultural. Knowing it is a pivot point and using that leverage can be crucial for getting to the end state.

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