Why Do People Resist Change?

Why is change so difficult? We expect our leaders to be able to create visions and then to share those visions with us in an effective way. It seem that is almost inevitable that those visions are going to involve some element of change. Change can be difficult for people to adapt to.

Change in one’s home life can be difficult enough, but we usually have some element of control over that. Change in a person’s workplace can be tough to take, especially because there can be so many negative ideas about the reasons for change occuring.

Tpyes of change

Lots of people don’t like change at work

Whether it is a change in the process of how we go about completing our work and regular tasks, whether it is a change in the structure of the organisations in which we are working, whether it is going to involve a change in how we are expected to behave in the workplace, or more importantly whether is a wholesale change in the culture of the company in which we work, or even the way in which we do things in our organisations: these changes can be tough to take and be able to adapt to.

And yet, there’s a paradox associated with leadership and in managing change. That is that 70-80% of all efforts to being about change will fail.

Questioning change

So we have two questions arising from this.

  1. The first is, why is change so difficult to manage?
  2. The second is, are there models or frameworks that we can use which will help improve our success and positive outcomes?

Let’s start with the first of these two questions. It is really important to recognise what change is, and what it also is not. Change is a dynamic and social process. By dynamic we mean that it has many moving parts. It has intended outcomes and it also has many unintended outcomes.

Even the smallest of changes will result in unintended outcomes. Those interconnections are not always going to be understood and not always known when the change process is at the very beginning stages of being implemented.


People will generally react to change in one of three ways: they may be enthusiastic – they willingly and positively accept the change. They are going to be proactive and are willing to come on board with the ideas that you are presenting to them.

angry man

People get angry about change

A second group of people, which is really going to be the majority of people, will adopt a wait-and-see approach. They are going to want to see how the change you are trying to put in to place is going to be received by their colleagues and other stakeholders, and then base their judgments on what they are able to see and what their own personal experience is.

The third group of people are the type of people who will fundamentally resist the change. Very often, wer are tempted to just ignore that group and not put in place any strategies to mollify or support them. It can be very easy for a management team to say that they’re just resistant people by their very nature, and we shouldn’t be bother with them.

Why resistance can help change

In fact, it is actually much more subtle than that. Because these people may not agree with the change, they may have seen what you are trying to do happen before, and they may have experienced this process before and therefore realised that this process that you are trying to make happy is not actually going to be as succcessful as you expect it to be.

They may not like the personality of the change agent, the person who’s bringing about the change. But, more often than not, what we find is that the people who will object to the how the change is being implemented are not in favour of the the process of change.

How to improve attitudes

They are not being consulted; they don’t feel as if they are being engaged and respected within the process; they don’t feel as if their voice is being heard. When that happens, people will disengage with the change and they will resist what you are trying to do.


Engage workers in change processes

So, the bottom line is that change will happen when people are engaged with the ideas and with the process. the people within the organisation are key to the implementation of change.

Ways to help make change

The second question we asked was; are there models or frameworks that we can use to help us implement s change agenda? The answer of course is, yes. There are many models that we can use t be able to more successfully bring about change. The oldest methods will have us going back to Kurt Lewin and John Carter. We can use quality tools and frameworks.

The Plan Do Study Act is a framework that has proven effective, or we can use the HSE model. Any of the organisational development models can be and effective way to deliver change.

What these models do, is that they help us to organise how we are going to plan and implement the change and they will then enable us to take a holistic view of that planned change. Essentially, all of these models are divided into three areas:

  1. First, they encourage us to plan the change to try and see how the change would work, who is going to need to be involved with the change and the process of change, and to try and schedule it.
  2. The second part is about the action – what actions are we going to need to take and how are we going to implement the change within the business from a practical perspective.
  3. The third component, and a really important point, is how the change is going to be mainstreamed or embedded into the business and the workforce so that it becomes part of the culture.

What is the new way of how this organisation or team is going to work? So, what are the take-home messages around leadership and managing change?


ethnic diversity

Engagement makes colleagues happy

The first message is that leaders need to be good an effective at managing change. The second is realising that change is a dynamic and social process. But, we have tools and frameworks that can help us in implementing the changes that we need. The third point is about people; as a leader you cannot implement change on your own.

There are always other people that need to be involved. They need to believe in you as a leader and the vision of where you’re going in terms of implementing change. And you need to listen to them.

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