More than 400 project leaders and change management practitioners representing organizations from 59 countries share lessons learned and key success factors in Prosci's 2007 Best Practices in Change Management benchmarking report. This release marks Prosci's 10th anniversary for change management research and 5th longitudinal study. The 70 page report is full of useful tips and findings that you can put to use immediately. This special tutorial series provides glimpses into the data and analysis from the 2007 report.

Resistance to change

Primary reasons employees resist change

Participants cited four top reasons for resistance to change by employees, including:

  1. Lack of awareness
    Employees resisted change because they lacked awareness of why the change was being made and how it would impact them. Participants indicated that employees resisted change when they did not know the business reasons for the change or did not understand the consequences of not changing. Employees also resisted change when they did not know how the change would impact their job role or when they did not have the answer to the question "What's in it for me?"
    Participant quote: "They were not given the awareness of what the change was doing to their day-to-day roles."
  2. Fear of the unknown
  3. Lack of job security
  4. Lack of sponsorship


Primary reasons managers resist change

Participants highlighted five top reasons for resistance to change from managers, including:

  1. Fear of losing control and authority
    Managers resisted a change when they feared a loss of control or authority in the future state. This loss of control and authority created an environment where managers felt threatened in their status, position and autonomy. "Lines of business will lose complete control and independence over financials."
  2. Lack of time
  3. Comfort with the status quo
  4. No answer to "What's in it for me?"
  5. No involvement in solution design


Identifying resistance

Participants were asked to identify what resistance to change looked like. The top responses were:

  1. Lack of participation
    Lack of participation was most commonly seen in employees trying to outlast the change - waiting for it to "go away" like previously attempted changes. Study participants also observed groups of employees trying to be excused or exempted from adopting the new processes.
    Participant quote: "Same old, same old - this will go away like everything else has, just another 'flavor of the month'."
  2. Openly expressing emotion
    Negative emotional expression took many forms including complaining, criticism, nitpicking, hostility, aggression, anger, frustration, excuses, low morale, bad attitudes, critical comments and openly expressing that the change would not work.
  3. Lack of attendance and absenteeism
    Lack of attendance was seen in three different ways: not attending status meetings and project events, not attending scheduled trainings and being absent from work altogether.
  4. Reverting to old ways
    Employees would ignore the new ways of doing work and find work-arounds.
  5. A decrease in productivity and missed deadlines
    A noticeable reduction in work output or delays could be observed.

Ineffective methods for dealing with resistance

Participants cited the top five mistakes to avoid when managing resistance.

  1. Ignoring resistance and expecting it to go away on its own
    Participants overwhelming cited ignoring resistance as the biggest mistake. Ignoring or avoiding resistance did not make it go away and in some cases made it worse.
  2. Not listening to and understanding the concerns of those impacted
    Participants said that not understanding the root cause of resistance prevented them from responding to the real issues and led to the conclusion that all resistance is the same. This led to an ineffective "one-size-fits-all approach" to managing resistance. Next time, participants said they would not assume all behavior was a result of resistance, but instead would work toward listening to impacted employees and asking questions to understand the root causes and reasons for their behavior.
    Participant quote: "Not fully understanding the nature of the resistance and the factors leading to it, and trying to apply a 'one approach fits all' mindset."
  3. Not gaining input from those impacted
    Participants stated that applying force and pressure from the top down to implement a change was a mistake for managing resistance. This approach did not build the buy-in and engagement of those impacted and therefore made it difficult to manage resistance.
  4. Underestimating the resistance
    Underestimating the resistance to change was cited as a significant mistake by participants because it resulted in a lack of planning for the change. This lack of planning was felt most significantly in the areas of building executive sponsorship and securing their involvement.
  5. Poor communication
    Poor communication made managing resistance very difficult. Poor communication included inconsistent messages, incorrect messages, incorrect senders, bad timing and dishonest information. Participants also stated that using a public forum to confront a resistor was a mistake.



Resistance to change can slow implementation, degrade benefits and in some cases cripple the entire project. In fact, resistance to change was cited as the number two obstacle in the 2007 study.

Prosci's research and methodology suggest that there are steps that can be taken to proactively manage resistance, before it significantly impacts a project. Additionally, there are specific actions that can be taken to address resistance when it does surface. In addition to the complete data on the topics addressed above, the 2007 benchmarking study includes sections on:

  • Who was most resistant to change?
  • Tactics to manage resistance
  • Impacts of using pain or fear to manage change
  • Organization's readiness to change

The full report includes complete descriptions of the top reasons for resistance presented in this tutorial.


Download the Managing Resistance to Change Executive Summary

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.