People. Process. Systems.

Ziv Dotan
21st June 2019

Resistance to Change in Projects

We all display some resistance to change with new circumstances in our life. It could be a minor thing – resisting the need to change an old phone to a new model. Or it could be a major thing – like being unwilling to adapt to a new work pattern.

Resistance to change is a natural part of the change process as we oppose any significant shift in the status quo. It is important to note that, in most cases, we do not resist the change itself (after all, we do not want to appear to like being forever stuck in our old ways, do we?). What we are usually resisting are the implications of change – whether real or perceived.

Types of Resistance to Change

We work in the world of projects.  By their very nature, every project is about delivering change.  Be that an ERP system change project, a digital transformation project or a business process optimisation project – it’s all about change.  The biggest impact of any change is on people.  And the key to success on every project is over-coming the inevitable resistance to change.

Across 20 years of change management and delivering projects, I have encountered many displays of resistance to change; from passive-aggressive behaviour, to denial. People’s responses and behaviours in response to change can manifest in countless ways. In my years of dealing with changes, I have narrowed down the types of resistance to four main groups, which I named as follows:

  • Power-based Resistance
  • Behaviour-based Resistance
  • Mind-based Resistance
  • Values-based Resistance

As a change manager it’s critical that you understand how the change will affect the individual personally.  That in turn helps you determine how best to handle it.

This is the first of 4 articles where I will look at each of the types of resistance to change and the ways I have found useful in dealing with it.  Starting with Power-Based Resistance.

Power-based Resistance

A person displaying Power-based resistance to change would be in a position of power in the company. They could be a manager or may have no official management responsibilities but have power and respect from their experience with the ‘old’ process. Even when a person’s job is secure, they can still feel threat to their status with a new way of working.

We see this a lot with ERP projects.  Someone might have extensive knowledge within the current environment, for example: the exact location of hundreds of items in a warehouse, the intricacies of the supply chain planning rules, every account code on the general ledger and what it’s used for.  Plus how to use the old ERP system to perfection along with all it’s quirks.  So when an ERP replacement project comes along – the new system and the new processes and ways of working signify a big paradigm shift for those individuals.  Their knowledge and expertise that was so valued until now no longer has the same relevance to the organisation.  Their job may be secure but will their old status be secure too?

A common manifestation of this type of resistance to change is that the person in a position of power puts up obstacles and barriers to the pathway to change.  They find any excuse to avoid engaging in any meaningful way in attempt to stop or delay the change.  They can also often exacerbate the resistance to change by adversely influencing their colleagues’ responses and adoption of the changes.  This can have a snowball effect if not adequately managed.

Handling Resistance to Change

So, how do we deal with this type of resistance?

Well, there are a few things that a good Change Manager can do. The first thing to remember is that we are dealing with a person.  Try to understand the situation from their side.  Aside from the workplace perspective, also consider whether there are other factors in that person’s life currently at play that could be influencing their behaviour. Simple really but spend some time talking to them as a person.  Try to get an insight into what’s really behind the resistance.  Simple but often overlooked.

Similarly the solutions to turn them from barriers to advocates can often be simple too.  If the anxiety is really about the perceived decline in status:
– would a change in job title help?
– would a position of influence on the project get them engaged?

Critically, is their perceived decline in status in the new world actually reality?  Generally speaking, there is usually an opportunity for these individuals to carve out bigger and better opportunities for themselves if they get on board and step up to the plate to become a driving force in the project delivery and the future state.  Do they understand that?  Has that been communicated effectively.

Closing Thoughts

Resistance to change can be crippling for business change projects unless handled correctly.  When someone in a position of power feels that their position is threatened, it’s only natural that their defences will come up.  As a change manager you need to be able to recognise this situation and the reasons behind it and try to find ways to break down the resistance.

This is the first out of four instalments, where I will be discussing resistance to change. Each instalment will be dealing with a different type of resistance and discussing how to tackle it.

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