Knowing the potential types of resistant employees in your organization will help you focus your change management energy to be the most successful in your project.

Types of resistant employees

Employees divide into three groups when faced with change. The first group is open and willing to change and is often called the early adopters. The second group is uncertain and hesitant about change. The third group becomes entrenched and often will not change.

Depending on your organization and the type of change taking place, the distribution of employees in each group will vary. For simple changes with little impact, you may find that 90% of your employees fall into Group 1, 10% fall into Group 2 and no employees fall into Group 3. For complex changes that have a significant impact on individuals, then the distribution may be much different, with a small fraction falling into Group 1 and 3, and a large fraction into Group 2. Regardless of the distribution of employees into each group, the approach used to manage resistance to change is similar.

Group 1

For Group 1, you will be engaging their support and visible participation to help move the change forward. Each employee in this group can become a strong and active advocate for change and can influence the background conversation with other employees. This background network is a key channel to reach Group 2 employees. Group 1 are your advocates.

Group 2

Group 2 employees require the most time and attention. These employees are the central focus of the methods provided here. Their choice to support or not support the change will be influenced by how effectively the change is managed. Direct supervisors and coaches will be the primary enablers. This is the group who may need help from the Top 10 List on Managing Resistance to Change, found in the Change Management Toolkit.

Group 3

Group 3 employees, by definition, are unlikely to change and will not support the change within the organization. They are often beginning an exit strategy that could include moving to another group or department, moving to another company, or leaving the workforce (e.g., retirement).

The key learning point from the different groups above is about where to focus your change management energy. Many times change management energy is spent on the small percentage in Group 3. Instead, make sure you focus your change management energy on the majority found in Group 2.

Diagnose the root cause of resistance

The natural and normal reaction to change is resistance. Every individual has a threshold for how much change they can absorb; however, the number one reason front-line employees resist change is a lack of awareness of the underlying business need for change.

It is beneficial to diagnose the root cause of resistance, based on the ADKAR Model, using the assessment below. Providing the needed information to increase employees' awareness of the business need for change is the first and most important proactive step in successful resistance management. The assessment below will allow you to determine if awareness, desire, knowledge, ability or reinforcement are barrier points or root causes for employee resistance. The assessment is best done face-to-face by someone who will actively listen to the employee. This is where your managers and front-line supervisors play a critical role in managing change. They will be a key player and can use this assessment with their employees.

Resistance assessment Exercise

Note: this assessment worksheet is based on the ADKAR Model. You can use this exercise in a face-to-face discussion with a resistant employee or manager, or the employee could be asked to provide responses in writing. The administration of this exercise should be done by the employee’s direct supervisor if possible.

  1. Why do you think the change is happening? For the current change underway, describe the business, customer, or competitor issues that you believe have created a need for change.
  2. Do you support this change? What factors affect your desire to change? Would you consider yourself in favor of the change, neutral towards the change or opposed to the change?
  3. Do you have the training you need? Identify the skills and knowledge that you believe are necessary to support the change. On a scale of 1 to 5, how would you rate your current training on these skills and knowledge areas?
  4. Are you having any difficulty implementing these skills and knowledge? If yes, in what areas? Considering the required skills and knowledge, how would you rate your ability to implement the changes?
  5. Are you getting the support you need? Is their adequate reinforcement and support for the change going forward? In what areas can we provide additional support or reinforcement?


Once you have determined the barrier point for this individual, you can take action specific to that area.


As a project team or change management team you will not be able to eliminate resistance, however, you can proactively manage and minimize that resistance. This tutorial identifies the different types of resistant employees and provides an assessment worksheet to identify the root cause of resistance based on the ADKAR Model.

For a complete set of change management templates, assessments and tools including resistance management, see the Change Management Toolkit.

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Written by
Tim Creasey
Tim Creasey

Tim Creasey is Prosci’s Chief Innovation Officer and a globally recognized leader in change management. His work forms the foundation of the largest body of knowledge in the world on managing the people side of change to deliver organizational results.

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