Why People Resist Change

Dec 15, 2017 1 Min Read


When most people hear the word ‘change’ they either say ‘yeah, yeah, change is the new norm…blah, blah, blah’ or they roll their eyes at the rhetoric they are about to hear about ‘how we all need to change’.

That’s because many leaders have been talking about change in the context of what people need to do more of (work) and how they need to step up (work harder) and that change requires effort (not so inspiring).

Truly what needs to change is for leaders to recognise that encouraging others to want to change is not about throwing new technologies or new systems changes or spouting rhetoric.

What needs to change is the understanding that human beings are psychological beings and, in order to make meaningful change, leaders need to meet people at the human-to-human level.

The three reasons people resist change and how to inspire them to want to are:

The immediate reaction to any change is defense or push back – it’s the fight or flight response.

Immediate thoughts might be: “You want me to do what?”; “Why are we changing this”; “I don’t want to do this”, etc.

To inspire the desire to change, leaders need to address the defense reactions with every single person involved in the change.

Addressing it means sitting down, and talking about the change, addressing any fears or concerns and having an open and truthful dialogue about how the change will impact current working situations and future working scenarios.

Once a change has been initiated, the next reason people resist is the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) response.

Every single person is asking themselves: “How is this going to affect me and my job?”; “Do I have the skills to do this?”; and “What if I fail?”

This is the stage where people will challenge the validity of the change, question the process or even subconsciously sabotage the change initiative.

To inspire at this stage, there needs to be ongoing, constant, open, honest and real-time communication.

Often a change will be launched with great fanfare and then, as it progresses and people are working hard and getting burnt out, the communication falters.

This is also the stage where the whole change process can go sideways because someone dropped the ball with ongoing communication.

The third reason people resist change is because it challenges his or her identity.

Identity is built on people’s repeated successes (and failures). Someone may be highly connected to their identity of being a leader or their identity of working for a company for a long time.

Change always challenges how a person sees himself or herself. Failing to recognise the need to support people’s identity can slow down or even halt a major change initiative.

To inspire at this level you want to have clear structure, project management, support tools, measurement of progress and visible flow charts to help people see where he or she fits, who is going to do what, how he or she can learn and grow and how he or she can enhance his or her identity. At this stage you want to inspire individuals to stretch their perception of his or her capabilities with your full support.

Change is ongoing and isn’t going away – (I know that sounds like rhetoric) and, as leaders integrate the human approach to change, organisations will see faster adaptation to change, more agile work teams and greater innovation.


Cheryl Cran is a Future of Work and Change Leadership expert, the author of “The Art of Change Leadership” and the founder of Evolutionary Leadership Training. To connect with Cheryl, e-mail to editor@leaderonomics.com


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This article is published by the editors of Leaderonomics.com with the consent of the guest author. 

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