Prosci defines change management as the application of a structured process and set of tools for managing the people side of change to reach a desired outcome. But how often do we see change management and resistance management used synonymously? If your answer is "quite often" then you are not alone. While Prosci emphasizes that change management is composed of many tools, strategies and techniques for managing the people side of change, one of the primary plans developed through the Prosci 3-Phase Change Management Methodology is a resistance management plan. Because the reality is that resistance will be faced during any effort in which people must change something about the way they do work.
Often, we think of resistance arising because employees are comfortable in the current state. But in some cases, the organization as a whole desires change. "We want change because..."
In these instances, according to the Prosci ADKAR Model for individual change, the awareness and desire are seemingly in place for moving out of the current state:
If this is the type of reaction you are experiencing, your change is in good shape right?
Well, what happens when, even with the awareness and desire seemingly in place, you are still faced with resistance? Resistance is the natural human reaction to any type of change, as it requires individuals to move from a current state where they are familiar and comfortable with processes and daily tasks, to an unfamiliar future state. Change is hard no matter how necessary or good the change may seem.
Even when resistance is accepted as the norm, it can still catch you off guard; especially when the change is perceived as desired by employees. In these situations when resistance is unexpected, yet still arises, we need to have an understanding of why it is happening so that we can determine what to do about it. Consider a few examples:
Change A - An organization is implementing a new email system because the current system is unreliable and employees are frequently receiving failure-to-send notices. Additionally, it is difficult for employees to access and navigate their email account away from the office, causing disruption in daily communications.
Change B - An organization is changing office locations. The current building where the company is located is old and has many structural problems that affect the employees' day-to-day activities. The company will relocate to a building that is nearby and has been recently renovated.
Change C - An organization is implementing a new benefits package that offers broader healthcare coverage and higher bonus incentives.
In each of these examples, either the change has such excellent benefits for those impacted that resistance is expected to be minimal or nonexistent (Change C), or the current way of doing things is so broken that employees are eager and excited to move to the future state (Changes A & B).
Even though the changes introduced above are a major improvement from the current state or the future state is very beneficial for employees, resistance still arises. If you were managing any one of these changes, how could you get to the bottom of what is happening, or where this resistance is coming from and why? And, just as important, what would you do about it to manage the unexpected resistance and keep the change on track?
The framework to apply to this type of resistance is that "a lack of desire is not always the cause of resistance." After further analysis, it has become apparent that the employee lacks the knowledge to effectively configure the new email system, though the desire to use the new system is in place.
Even though the employee desires the new future state, it is the messiness of the transition state that is causing difficulties for the employee. Her behaviors appear to demonstrate that she doesn't desire to move, but in reality she might just need more time to adjust and get settled.
On the surface, the change seemed to be desirable because of its beneficial monetary impact on employees' bonus checks. However, in Jeff's case, the change from quarterly payments to bi-annual is the source of resistance as it has disrupted his personal plans.
Tactics for addressing resistance:
In order to effectively manage resistance to change, you must first have an understanding of what resistance is and avenues for managing it. Then, you will be able to more effectively recognize, analyze and address unique situations where resistance was once unexpected, but has arisen.
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.