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Change Management - Taking the Lead Whilst Tackling Resistance to Change!

Updated on February 25, 2020
Jon A Stephenson profile image

Jon has over 20 years' senior management experience leading business transformations, employee engagement programmes and change initiatives

The four main reasons why people resist change

Have you ever wondered why dogs sometimes stop dead in their tracks, and stubbornly refuse to follow your lead?

A few days ago, my wife came back from walking the neighbour's dog, a gorgeous black cockapoo like the one pictured, and said he'd been a nightmare because he'd refused to move when she tried to take him home by a different route.

For some bizarre reason, I started thinking about JP Kotter's theory that there are four main categories for assessing resistance to change, and I wondered if I could apply it to our neighbour's dog!

  1. Parochial self-interest - perhaps he didn't want to go the new way because he didn't feel safe crossing roads
  2. Misunderstanding - maybe he was tired and wanted to go home, and didn't realise that the new route would also take him there
  3. Different assessment of the situation - he might have thought that the usual way was quicker and more interesting than the proposed route
  4. Low tolerance to change - it could have been that he just wanted to go the way he always went because he liked it, knew what to expect and felt comfortable walking along a familiar path

It could've been any, all or none of the above guesses. In the end, only the dog (or possibly Dr Dolittle) knows the real reason. The point of this story is that when you're tackling resistance to change within your organisation, you don't need to guess.

The six ways to tackle resistance to change


Start with the mindset that it's perfectly normal for people to resist change, engage with them and establish their individual reasons, and then you can take the appropriate action to support their conversion. Kotter suggests there are six escalating approaches you can use:

  1. Education and communication - explain clearly the change and its rationale
  2. Participation and involvement - give them opportunities to shape the change
  3. Facilitation and support - provide guidance and coaching during the transition
  4. Negotiation and agreement - offer incentives to accept the change
  5. Manipulation and co-option - engineer the desired outcome
  6. Explicit and implicit coercion - grab the bull by the horns and make it happen

Even if my wife had been able to work out the reason for the dog's resistance, I'm not sure that any of the first three approaches would've worked on him. She usually relies on the final three - first off, she offers him a gravy bone (his favourite snack) to encourage him to go the right way. Next option is to walk on without him, put her hand in the pocket where he knows she keeps the gravy bones and hope he sprints after her. Or if all else fails, pick him up and carry him!

It might address the matter this time, but it certainly won't encourage him to change his behaviour next time he doesn't like the chosen route. In fact, my wife has probably made it harder for herself. She'd better stock up on some more gravy bones, and hope that he doesn't put on too much weight, if she continues to carry him!

If you don't want to do the heavy lifting when introducing change within your organisation, you should focus your energies on the first three approaches. I've found them to be the best way to build trust and embed a continuous improvement culture - where people warmly embrace, rather than fear, change.

Creating a Change Matrix

It's useful to create a change matrix so you can list the people affected by a proposed change. You can then:

  • score their individual importance to the successful implementation of the change
  • assess their current level of buy-in
  • record the reason(s) for any resistance
  • document the actions you've taken

Treat it as a working document. Allow people time to move through their individual change curve, but provide support and direction where required.

In summary, make sure you're acting as a role model when managing change - you want people to follow your lead. Get it wrong and you'll be one that ends up in the doghouse!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2020 Jon Stephenson

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