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“People don’t Resist Change. They Resist Being Changed!”

This Peter Senge quote is very appropriate for this week’s post. In last week’s blog we discussed why people typically resist change. (https://www.govloop.com/profiles/blogs/why-do-we-resist-categorizing). In this week’s entry, we take it to the next level by discussing why and how people actually resist change. What barriers and arguments do they use to convince themselves that change is not good or not relevant to them? There are several different tactics that are typically taken that can be classified into the following six categories

  1. Only Game in Town
  2. We Are the World
  3. The Rules
  4. Analysis Paralysis
  5. Let’s Ask the Consultants
  6. The Rumor Mill

In this blog, we will focus on the first three categories by defining them and then suggesting some mitigation approaches that the Change Management Champions (CMC) could pursue to address the resistor’s concerns and issues.

“Only Game in Town”

An example of this resistance strategy is an employee who is the only one who knows how to complete a specific task, update a customized database, or build a unique spreadsheet. The change threatens their power base, and they do not want to lose it. Frequently when they are asked to share information or collaborate they are either “unable” or most likely, unwilling, to support the request.

I have seen this type of resistance strategy in municipalities which do not offer a lot of training or where employees are permitted to use their institutional expertise to take over a job function or classification.

A successful mitigation strategy for addressing this type of resistor is to design, develop, and deliver training which focuses on training multiple personnel to perform a variety of tasks, so skills are not located within a single person. This type of cross-training minimizes the reliance on one employee. In addition, it is imperative that the training provide extensive access to key data elements and multiple employees. Once again, this minimizes the hoarding of information and subsequent centralization of power.

“We Are the World”

I have seen this type of strategy a lot! A department or team claims their processes are truly unique and cannot be supported by any new system. They frequently feel this way even before even being aware of the type of functionality the new system offers. They firmly believe that no system/program can ever replicate what they are doing. It is true that a new system may not be able to address a unique governmental regulation that exists. However, this is extremely rare. I have only seen this twice in more than ten years of implementing new systems. In both instances the teams adopted every other component of the system and utilized it to enhance their processes. The exception invariably served their status and power positions.

A successful mitigation approach that I have used involves reviewing all the business requirements to separate “required” from “traditional.” Those that are deemed traditional are typically re-engineered in the future state so that the organization can still accomplish their goals, just in a different manner.

“The Rules”

An employee holds a widely-held belief that a change cannot be undertaken due to an administrative rule or policy, union issue, civil service ruling, or some other incumbent authority. Typically there is not an actual rule. What I have seen is that processes become institutionalized over time and are treated as “rules” when in actuality they are just a way of doing business. Impacted employees frequently believe that a new system is prohibited because it violates the established rules. This view provides them with a comfort level in their safe, knowledgeable roles.

To help mitigate this concern it is important to validate rules and not just policies or processes. It is important to differentiate these as it is easier to change procedures than it is rules. Another approach involves executive level communication to the impacted employees to ensure that changing does not violate “rules” established by the municipality. In addition, it is important to engage the affected employees to solicit feedback on the proposed future state processes. Engaging them in business process re-design efforts should be pursued.

The key theme in addressing these three types of resistors is to engage early and often, be receptive to their feedback, and not minimize how the change will directly impact their position, status, and power within the organization. Tune in next week when we will continue our discussion on the different reasons and types of resistors and share other tactics they frequently employ. In addition, we will share some mitigation approaches that can be leveraged to address employees’ concerns.

I close with the following questions:

1 – What other resistance reasons and strategies have you seen utilized by employees?

2 – What are some of the mitigation approaches you have seen successfully deployed?

Check out my previous seven Change Management Blogs at:

Change Happens—How Do You Manage It?


The Impact of Ignoring Change


Getting it Right: Critical Success Factors for Change Management Initiatives, Part 1


Getting it Right: Critical Success Factors for Change Management Initiatives, Part 2


Creating the Secret Sauce – Selecting Change Management Champions


Why Do We Resist? Categorizing the Different Types of Resistance


Spencer Stern specializes in assessing the business and process impact of new technology-based solutions, ranging from enterprise-wide software systems to wireless communications networks. In 2008 he launched Stern Consulting where he continues to focus on assessing the financial impact of large-scale municipal strategic implementations. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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Carol Davison

I’ve lead change best when faciliating a cross functional group to design the change. Sometimes I KNEW who to do the new process to the Nth degree, but the group wouldn’t let me go that far. I submitted to their subject matter expertise. Later when implementing the change I saw how my “Nth degree would have negatively impacted acceptence of the change. Thank goodness I had the wisdom to listen to my group!

Jay Johnson

Though I haven’t read it yet, your post makes me think of some of the points John Kotter makes in his new book Buy-In. Enoyed it – thanks.

Dale S. Brown

The best mitigation strategy I’ve seen for the only game in town goes like this. The manager should talk to employee who is threatened by the change and tell them ahead of time and work with them on a new role. Be very clear that their pay and grade is not threatened (unless of course it is threatened) and work with them on a new role. Usually these people are talented- and rightly proud of what they are doing. Also, my experience is that these people usually know things that the web developers and IT people don’t know. They should be deeply involved in user testing and possibly training. Hey, if they’ve been doing a good job at it, why not offer them a promotion?

Jenyfer Johnson

Now I have to add some “change resistant” sounding words from a 27+ year federal employee. I have seen alot of so-called changes come and go…they have had many names, titles, different looks and feels, they offered training classes so we would know how to deal with them, sometimes they didn’t and just changed things…but the bottom line was EVERYTHING CHANGES AND EVERYTHING STAYS THE SAME.

I don’t mean to sound pessimistic but I see the changes that are taking place right now within the AF and how they are trying to centralize our COMM operations, which is wreaking havoc on base-level day-to-day operations. We have no input…it just happens; it was deemed so at a higher level, so we accomplish our job as always to the best of our ability, working around the havoc. The circle will eventually come back around (if we all wait long enough) and someone will see the havoc and the change will come; it always does. Change in the government is cyclical. I’ve worked long enough to see the cycle a couple of times. Ask a military member about how things change and then change back.

Charlene McTier

Thanks — alot of great information! Change normally happens when something traumatic happens — that’s only when personal change occurs. It’s a rude awakening!

I have also seen change throughout the decades of my career only to find that it circles back to the original change. Aha! I tend to agree with Jenyfer’s comment — EVERYTHING CHANGES AND EVERYTHING STAYS THE SAME.