We start our change management training by measuring participant’s expectations and finding out what they want to draw from the program. Most frequently, they are attending the training to learn how to manage resistance to change and learning what strategies, tactics, and tools to address resistance effectively.

Our deduction from this and other feedback from project teams implementing change initiatives is that resistance to change is not welcome. If anything, resistance is tiresome, draining, and slows down the achievement of project objectives. Additionally, change leaders aren’t always tolerant of individuals who appear to be resisting or not falling in line. It is therefore common practice to draw human resource departments into projects to manage ‘the difficult individuals’.

Our starting line is to define resistance. According to the webster-dictionary, resistance is ‘the action of opposing something that you disagree or disapprove of’. Other related words include opposition, backlash, defiance, blame-shifting, disagreement, and contention. Training participants describe resistance to change in their organisations many highlight murmuring, complaining, negativity, silence, passive aggression, public display of support but behind the scenes resistance, not attending meetings or trainings, lack of engagement. Poor results of employee engagement surveys could also point to issues of resistance in the organisation.

Also Read: Success In Change Begins With Getting The Change Right

The secret sauce to managing resistance is to understand that it is a natural response to change so it should be expected and not surprising.

My bank recently upgraded the internet banking platform promising greater efficiency, easier transaction processing, and additional features that the old one did not offer. Despite all the positive benefits of the new platform and the incentives on offer, I found myself asking questions like, ‘What is wrong with the current internet banking platform? It works perfectly fine; I do not see the need to change’. Further to that, ‘I am used to the current platform, I know where all the features and icons are, I do not want to learn how to use the new one, I am comfortable’.

Perhaps some of your staff, suppliers, or customers have shared similar sentiments with you or you are personally resisting changes coming from working remotely, or homeschooling.  My personal reaction goes to show, resistance is a natural reaction to change. It will happen so we should expect it.

Also Read: 5 Tips To Managing Resistance To Change

My hope is that with the understanding that resistance is a normal reaction to change, those who resist will not be victimised, judged negatively, or labeled as difficult. The current state has a powerful hold on individuals even if it may be dysfunctional or inefficient. In that vein, threats, coercion, or fear are ineffective in managing resistance.

Did you know that resistance does not occur in isolation? There is a personal and organisational context where resistance occurs and the root cause must be established instead of dwelling on the symptoms. For example, if an organisation has historically managed change poorly or has a number of failed changes, individuals will view the next change through a lens of scepticism and past failures. In such instances, common response would be, ‘this is not going to work’ or ‘this has been tried before’ or ‘let’s wait and see but I am not hopeful’. Even as such responses are disheartening and frustrating to the change management team, they must pause, step back and look beneath the resistance then address it properly.

Also Read: Where Should Change Management Sit in the Organisation?

If an individual resists change, it might be that it does not align with their professional plans, or perhaps the change impacts their family situation.  Once again take time to understand the root cause of the resistance then address it.

Different groups resist change for different reasons: the reasons employees resist change differ from the reasons managers or executives and senior teams resist change. Regardless though of the reason, the 2018 Prosci® best practice in change management study showed that for 44% of the participants found that half of the resistance from employees and 49% of the resistance from managers could have been avoided.

Also Read: Why Change Management Certification Is Important

This suggests that with early, proactive identification and using the rights steps and approaches, resistance when implementing change can be mitigated.

We will examine some tactics that can be used to manage resistance in our next article.

Written By Nyawera Kibuka

Nyawera currently provides strategic leadership of Cedar Africa’s offerings and ensures quality service delivery. She is passionate about coaching and training individuals and organisations towards positive change. Successful transformation in every engagement is one of her greatest rewards.

Webinar How To Manage Resistance To Change


Cedar Africa Group is Prosci® primary partner in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda