Proactive Resistance Management and Why Every Organization Needs It

Change is like a two-year-old – it’s always asking “Why?” Why are we changing? Why now? Why me? Guess what? Asking “why” is OK! These questions show that your organization wants to know more about the change. More importantly, the way an organization responds to “Why?” determines how employees react to change and the types of resistance that develop. Responding to “Why?” requires a proactive approach, and when done right will engage and inform your organization. Even if you think your organization isn’t resistant to change, having the right tools will prepare you to address those “terrible twos” of change head on.

“No really, my organization isn’t resistant to change!”

In most organizations, comfort with the status quo is all too common. Resistance is always around the corner and is best managed proactively.  Comfort with the current state is powerful and even if your organization has a history of successfully accepting, implementing, or better yet celebrating change, everyone has a saturation point.

Consider how your employees communicate and share feedback. Even if your organization offers structured feedback tools, Prosci’s research indicates that organizations only capture 5% of the feedback, with the other 95% occurring casually (and undocumented) in breakrooms and over coffee, or even at home. People react to change very differently and as a result, identifying and managing that response can be harder than it seems. This is because some resistance is overt and observable while other forms are covert and hidden from observation, as indicated in the chart below.



  • Open expression of resistance through formal and informal feedback channels
  • Hidden resistance or refusal to change that may include accepting change without truly changing
  • Actionable and conscious resistance to change which may result in voluntary attrition
  • Lack of participation or unconscious resistance; reverting to old patterns or waiting the change out


As you can imagine, covert resistance is the hardest to manage because it’s elusive and outsiders are unaware that it exists. Covert resistance only becomes overt once it is identified. Once discovered, there are several tactics and strategies to successfully mitigate resistance in any organization. So, how exactly do you uncover covert resistance?  Wait for it, wait for it... 

The Art of Questioning

Wow, you are patient! That is exactly what the art of questioning requires. People who hesitate to change use “Why?” A LOT. You may have encountered someone that asks ten questions about a change, even when you’ve answered nine of the ten questions. This person might be asking because they truly don’t understand, or they need to talk through information to get to question number ten, which usually ends up being the one thing that wasn’t considered. As individuals move through the change process they become more aware of the personal impact a change might bring, and their resistance can be instrumental to informing a positive change strategy when handled the right way.

Warren Berger, author of “A More Beautiful Question,” makes the argument that by answering questions with questions and thinking in questions rather than answers, we bring some of the most innovative ideas to life. To best respond to a person who is resistant to change, try thinking about your change efforts from their perspective and asking the questions they would ask.

OC&T July 2018 Blog

 This is what we call “finding the What Is In It For Me (WIIFM)”. In other words, why does this matter to the organization and why should an employee care?

Structuring Your Approach

Now that you have channeled the inner toddler of change, it’s time to start putting some plans in place to reduce and manage resistance. With over 450 customers’ finance and HR organizations transformed, Collaborative Solutions demonstrates expertise helping organizations navigate change. In our experience, the following are the key activities and deliverables that every organization should consider to help their employees embrace change.

  • The Communication Plan – One of the most valuable tools for managing resistance. If you don’t tell people the story of your organization’s WHY, they will make up their own. We recommend communicating early and often to make sure the story is non-fiction. Check out our blog Communicating Change: A Secret Ingredient for Your Success to learn more about the art and science of change communication.
  • A Change Champion Network – A key driver of communication and engagement across an organization, particularly when your organization is running lean. We build this network of peers to mitigate resistance through influence, positively shaping the attitude towards change and therefore, adoption.
  • Sponsorship Engagement – The roadblock removal tool of choice. This method relies on active support for the change from the top down. A sponsor’s involvement sets clear expectations and reduces fear by showing that leadership is engaged, supportive, and considering the organization’s needs.
  • Stakeholder Assessments – An important tool used to identify the needs, interests, and potential impacts to various stakeholders in your organization. When mapping your stakeholders, it’s important to identify covert change makers, or what Debra Meyerson callstempered radicals. These are employees who are respected by their peers and influence change through their relationships to successfully mitigate resistance early on.
  • Readiness Assessment – If you already have a culture of adoption, continuing to manage and reflect the history of positive change is important. We recommend using readiness assessments at key milestones in the change strategy to gauge change saturation and give change capacity a tune-up. We also take the time to celebrate wins and reinforce the culture of change readiness.

No matter the organization or its change capacity, you should always look for the growing pains of change. We know that change can be a toddler and it’s important to communicate clearly rather than giving the age-old “because I said so” response.

Instead, develop a plan to uncover covert resistance and use a strong resistance management strategy to convert that resistance into support. There’s nothing like having the energy and creativity of toddler on your side. Use these tools to guide your organization through change, whether that change stems from a new implementation, process and policy changes, or recurring updates and optimizations. For more information on Collaborative’s Change Management expertise and how we can help your organization embrace change, read on:


Embrace Change in Your Organization