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Blogs > MWD Advisors

Embracing resistance to change
Angela Ashenden By: Angela Ashenden, Principal Analyst, MWD Advisors
Published: 14th February 2013
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License
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From talking to many different types of organisations about their collaboration initiatives, one of the issues that surfaces regularly is the problem of resistance to change. Of course, this is a challenge that is not specific to improving collaboration; it’s a reaction that every organisation embarking on a significant business change initiative (and even perhaps in the case of more minor process change projects) will have encountered to some extent or another. Unfortunately, because collaboration initiatives are often tightly tied with the implementation of a software solution, the fact that it is a business change project is often entirely overlooked, with the result that there are many false starts and failures before the organisation finally accepts that the technology will not solve the problem for them, and that you need a properly planned approach to business change.

But, coming back to resistance to change, in the case of getting people to be more collaborative, I have come across several underlying reasons why people resist, including:

  • Fear of losing their “edge” or value to the organisation – the “knowledge is power” challenge
  • There is not enough time (real or perceived) to allow them to step away from their daily activities to address the change
  • People don’t see what’s in it for them personally – it’s seen as change for change’s sake, or as something that will benefit the company but not themselves
  • It’s seen as a fad, something that will pass quickly, and therefore doesn’t warrant the effort, or the risk of upsetting line managers.

When it comes to dealing with resistance to change, my primary advice to you is to understand it – who is resisting, and why are they resisting? What are their concerns, and what are the reasons behind their concerns? Paul R. Lawrence put it well in his 1969 (yes – 1969!! Different decade, same challenges.) article How to Deal with Resistance to Change:

When resistance does appear, it should not be thought of as something to be overcome. Instead, it can best be thought of as a useful red flag—a signal that something is going wrong. To use a rough analogy, signs of resistance in a social organization are useful in the same way that pain is useful to the body as a signal that some bodily functions are getting out of adjustment.

The resistance, like the pain, does not tell what is wrong but only that something is wrong. And it makes no more sense to try to overcome such resistance than it does to take a pain killer without diagnosing the bodily ailment. Therefore, when resistance appears, it is time to listen carefully to find out what the trouble is.

People don’t just resist out of spite; there could be any number of reasons behind it, and the only way to know what those reasons are is to ask. Perhaps it is simply that your communication strategy has not quite hit the mark, or that there is not enough evidence of business leaders practising what they preach. Of course, their concerns may be perfectly valid – perhaps something that you had not considered, or some nuances of the company culture or politics that you were not aware of. Once you fully understand the reasons behind their resistance, you are much better placed to address it, either through more targeted reasoning and communication, or through tweaks to your strategy. Either way, you need to be patient, considerate and sensitive to their position, avoiding making them feel like they are being difficult.

How have you handled resistance to change in your own organisation? It would be great to hear your thoughts.

(A note from the editor: This post was originally published on the AIIM community blog, where Angela posts monthly as an invited ‘Expert Blogger’.)

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