Embedding the change #5 – Dealing with resistance

In our previous blog on Change Management, we looked at ways to develop a high level analysis on where individuals and teams impacted by the change programme sit. Our categories are based on the ability and willingness of the people to deal with the change initiatives. The categories are:


Each category requires a different approach.

Can change and will change – these are the easiest people to deal with. They have the resources to cope with the change and are willing to participate. They are the people who are actively enthusiastic about the programme and can become role models and champions to influence those who have not yet embraced change.

Can’t change but will change – these are people who are willing to change and see the benefit in the proposals, but lack the ability or resources to complete it successfully. The approach with this group is simply to take away the limiting factor; for example, provide further resource to help them make the change or allocate additional time to make it effective.

Can change but won’t change – on the face of it, this is a difficult group to deal with. They have the ability and resources to change but are not willing to get behind the programme. These are the people who throw up objections, show no support for the approach, put up barriers and obstacles and are keen to maintain the status quo. The finger will often be pointed at them if the change effort fails.

Writing in the Harvard Business Review, J.D. Ford and L.W. Ford argue that this group is key because they provide an ‘important form of feedback.’ Difficult people can provide valuable input; particularly if they have seen similar change efforts fail in the past. There are a number of strategies to deal with this group:

  1. Boost awareness – increase the communication levels to really understand the impact of the changes on this group and to put in place mitigating actions. By doing this there is an excellent opportunity to gain buy-in.
  2. Describe the end point – people need to understand not only how their work is changing but also the whole picture and the benefits that the changes will bring.
  3. Change the change – people who are outspoken are often those who care most about getting things right and who have concerns about the problems that a poorly designed or implemented change will cause. Take their views on board and there can be a win-win outcome.
  4. Build participation – look for opportunities to get people in this group involved in the change effort. This might be through a change network or a group of super users.
  5. Use past experiences – as Ford and Ford say, ‘employees listening to new proposals remember previous experiences. It’s not surprising they expect history to repeat itself – and resist going through it all again.’ Project teams really need to understand the lessons of the past, not only to avoid making the same mistakes again, but to take the people with them.

Can’t change and won’t change – these are people who don’t have the ability to change and are not willing to get behind the programme. Unless this group are absolutely critical to the change programme, a potential approach is simply to sideline them. Otherwise a combination of the methods described above will be needed.

Understanding which category individuals or groups of staff fall into is an interesting starting point for the change management approach. It can work alongside the development of a more traditional change impact assessment to give a holistic view of the challenges faced and the ways of dealing with them.


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