Resistance Isn’t Futile!

Continuing with the “Change Management does Star Trek” theme following my previous blog. When Captain Jean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) was assimilated into the ‘Borg’ race he was told ‘Resistance is futile’. However, we will see that from the Prosci® Change Management research and also from basic human psychology that resistance isn’t futile but is in fact to be expected, it can be managed and it might actually have some positive value in your change programme. 

Prosci’s 2016 Best Practices benchmarking study has repeatedly identified that the number one obstacle to success for major change projects is employee resistance and the ineffective management of the people side of change.

So our people matter and we need to consider the people impact of any change that is being planned.

It’s all about our primitive brain
Neuroscience shows the brain works in a protective way; it is naturally resistant to change and is hard wired to seek rewards and avoid pain or discomfort, including fear. 'Fascinating.'

The Prosci Flight Risk Model shows that a dip in productivity / increase in resistance is normal and expected in any change. However, ignoring resistance is the worst strategy you can take and, unmanaged resistance can lead to significant financial impact. 

Prosci Flight Risk Model

When employees don’t have a way to surface their concerns about a change, this often leads to a reduction in productivity, and at its worst, you may risk losing your most valued employees.  

Think of it this way, getting a change wrong can be an expensive process. If your employees feel ‘under threat’, however professional they are, there will be some tangible impact which could undermine the benefits envisioned in your change program.

Don’t wait, act now
The Prosci flight risk model shows us that you will start to see some loss in productivity and increase in resistance from the very first communication or even the very first rumor of a change, so it is important to act quickly.

Anticipate resistance and develop a mitigation strategy
The Prosci research also shows that we can anticipate up to 50% of the resistance from the very beginning of the project, so if we expect it, then we can do something to try and mitigate it.

Whatever point you are at in your change program, one of your next tasks should be to set aside some time, however short, and try to anticipate the likely resistance with your change. Be sure to involve others in your team where possible and draw on their knowledge and experience.

The research shows us the top reasons for employee resistance:

  • Lack of awareness of why the change is needed
  • Resistance specific to the change itself
  • Change saturation
  • Fear
  • Lack of support from management/leadership

Once you have brainstormed and considered possible points of resistance, you can develop a mitigation strategy and then, of course, don’t wait to implement it. 'Make it so.'

Is all resistance bad?
That sounds like a strange question when we typically talk about how can we manage and mitigate resistance.  Of course, we must always first listen and understand the resistance point and I mean really listen. With that in mind here are my top tips for managing resistance…

  • People want to be heard: For many people, even if they know that the change is going to happen, they simply want to be genuinely heard. If you can demonstrate that you have listened, then often they will then decide to participate in the change.
  • Listen, really listen and then clarify: Sometimes in the listening process, it becomes clear that there is a misunderstanding. Once this is clarified the resistance might disappear.
  • Don’t let over prescription swamp creativity: There may be resistance because your people have found a more efficient way of moving from the current to the future state and we are being unnecessarily prescriptive.  This might actually be a better way for many others and it could be a time or money saver.
  • Face the issues: It is possible that someone has identified a real issue within the change that hasn’t been captured and this is being surfaced as resistance.
  • Embrace resistance, it’s not all bad: Recognise that resistance can be an extremely positive sign that the person really is passionate about getting this right and that should be celebrated too.

As Spock said ‘change is the essential process of all existence’, and as we've shown, resistance isn’t futile, it’s a part of change. Follow these steps, anticipating and embracing resistance and your project should 'live long and prosper':

  1. Recognise that resistance is the natural reaction to change.
  2. Apply change management at the onset of every project or change, and do it effectively.
  3. Anticipate and identify likely resistance at the earliest opportunity so that it can be planned for, addressed or eliminated upfront. There is no reason to wait.
  4. Be ready to react promptly to any enduring or persistent resistance and be clear of the tactics that can be used.

You can read Alan Kendall’s blog ‘Beam me up Scotty! We need change management for our digital transformation project’ or find out more about CMC's Prosci Change Management training courses. If you would like to speak to one of the team about how we can help you with a specific change impacting your organisation, then please get in touch.