Rooting Out Resistance to Change

Jul 31, 2011 3 Comments by

Every change is subject to some level of resistance and stakeholders will express it in any number of ways. Instead of simply tolerating resistance or cowering in the face of it – Change Agents should seek out the loudest detractors and leverage the momentum they can provide.

The first steps to converting negative resistance into positive momentum include finding those who are resisting the change and identifying what may be motivating their concern. In today’s post, I’ll show how you can begin the process of discovering who’s offering resistance to your change.

First You Gotta Find ‘Em: In an earlier article, I’ve addressed the process of locating your stakeholders.  The methods I’ve described there will result in you having built a fairly complete “Stakeholder Map” of who will be involved in your change or impacted by it.

It’s important that you take the time to create this list of impacted people. It will come in handy for the rest of the change project and the process of discovery may yield a few surprises. You may also uncover hidden sources of support for your change or unplanned pockets of additional impacted stakeholders.

Take Their Temperature: Rooting out resistance within your stakeholder community can be as simple as asking members of your target audience how they feel about the change through surveys, site visits, town hall meetings and other interactive forms of communication.

If your change impacts a few dozen people, you may be able to talk with each one, but in the more likely case where you have hundreds or thousands of stakeholders, you should select a representative sample and engage them in some preliminary dialogue. Start by asking them general open-ended queries like:

“Describe your current level of support for the change.”

Open-ended questions like this tend to generate all sorts of data that may or may not fit your needs, but I find them incredibly useful for establishing rapport and avoiding the trap of using “leading questions”.

You could also ask a scalar question that covers a range of possibilities like:

Which response most closely reflects your current level of support for the change?

  1. I fully support it
  2. I support it for the most part but have a few unanswered questions
  3. I don’t really have an opinion about it at this time
  4. I don’t support it yet and I have significant concerns
  5. I oppose the change and have significant reasons to do so

Focus, Focus, Focus: Tailor these questions to the specific details of your change. In the case of a complex change, you will get better data if you break the change down into component parts and ask more focused questions. You may also want to vary the questioning based on how different roles or different parts of the organization will be impacted in different ways by your change.

In my next post, I’ll share how Change Agents can use the data gathered in this step to uncover the possible motivations behind the resistance. That’s going to be an important part of addressing the resistance and making your change more successful.


Questions for Chatter:

  1. How much early resistance do you suppose is based on a lack of information about the change?
  2. How detailed should your questioning be during this early stage of discovery?

Incoming search terms:

  • skills of change agent

Change Agent Skills, Change Communication, Change Execution, Change Leadership, Stakeholder Readiness

About the author

I help people and teams succeed with big changes... never a dull moment!

3 Responses to “Rooting Out Resistance to Change”

  1. chihos (@chihos) (@chihos) says:

    The 1st Step in dealing w/resistance to change is drawing out those with concerns: #leadchange #pmot #baot #leadership

  2. chihos (@chihos) (@chihos) says:

    After a nice vacation break & a bit of summer laziness, today’s fresh post on theBigRocks of #Change blog is up!

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