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Top 12 reasons why people resist change

Expecting resistance to change and planning for it from the start of your change management progamme will allow you to effectively manage objections. Understanding the most common reasons people object to change gives you the opportunity to plan your change strategy to address these factors.

It’s not possible to be aware of all sources of resistance to change. Expecting that there will be resistance to change and being prepared to manage it is a proactive step. Recognizing behaviors that indicate possible resistance will raise awareness of the need to address the concerns.

Classic psychological reactions to change

 

Change Management - Reactions to change

At the end of the day all sources of resistance to change need to be acknowledged and people’s emotions validated.

It’s far better to anticipate objections than to spend your time putting out fires, and knowing how to overcome resistance to change is a vital part of any change management plan.

Top 12 typical reasons for resistance to change

  1. Misunderstanding about the need for change/when the reason for the change is unclear — If staff do not understand the need for change you can expect resistance. Especially from those who strongly believe the current way of doing things works well…and has done for twenty years!
  2. Fear of the unknown — One of the most common reasons for resistance is fear of the unknown. People will only take active steps toward the unknown if they genuinely believe – and perhaps more importantly, feel – that the risks of standing still are greater than those of moving forward in a new direction
  3. Lack of competence — This is a fear people will seldom admit. But sometimes, change in organizations necessitates changes in skills, and some people will feel that they won’t be able to make the transition very well
  4. Connected to the old way — If you ask people in an organization to do things in a new way, as rational as that new way may seem to you, you will be setting yourself up against all that hard wiring, all those emotional connections to those who taught your audience the old way – and that’s not trivial
  5. Low trust — When people don’t believe that they, or the company, can competently manage the change there is likely to be resistance
  6. Temporary fad — When people belief that the change initiative is a temporary fad
  7. Not being consulted — If people are allowed to be part of the change there is less resistance. People like to know what’s going on, especially if their jobs may be affected. Informed employees tend to have higher levels of job satisfaction than uninformed employees
  8. Poor communication — It’s self evident isn’t it? When it comes to change management there’s no such thing as too much communication
  9. Changes to routines — When we talk about comfort zones we’re really referring to routines. We love them. They make us secure. So there’s bound to be resistance whenever change requires us to do things differently
  10. Exhaustion/Saturation — Don’t mistake compliance for acceptance. People who are overwhelmed by continuous change resign themselves to it and go along with the flow. You have them in body, but you do not have their hearts. Motivation is low
  11. Change in the status quo — Resistance can also stem from perceptions of the change that people hold. For example, people who feel they’ll be worse off at the end of the change are unlikely to give it their full support. Similarly, if people believe the change favours another group/department/person there may be (unspoken) anger and resentment
  12. Benefits and rewards — When the benefits and rewards for making the change are not seen as adequate for the trouble involved

Expecting resistance to change and planning for it from the start of your change management progamme will allow you to effectively manage objections. Not dealing proactively is one pitfall – but there are many other common mistakes:

 

 

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About the author
Torben Rick Torben Rick

Experienced senior executive, both at a strategic and operational level, with strong track record in developing, driving and managing business improvement and development and change management. International experience from management positions in Denmark, Germany and Switzerland

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About the author
Torben Rick Torben Rick

Experienced senior executive, both at a strategic and operational level, with strong track record in developing, driving and managing business improvement and development and change management. International experience from management positions in Denmark, Germany and Switzerland

View full profile

21 comments on “Top 12 reasons why people resist change

May 24, 2011 8:12 am

Duncan Brodie

Excellent blog post.

Change in my experience is one of those areas that seems simple in theory but tough in practice. The key in my experience is to change hearts and minds.

Duncan Brodie
Goals and Achievements Ltd

May 24, 2011 9:41 am

Surabhi

Nice thoughts, All relevant….

well said at the end that “To win people’s commitment for change, you must engage them on both a rational level and an emotional level”. Something I too believe in.

Surabhi Rastogi
Draft n Craft

May 24, 2011 7:30 pm

Norm Nopper

I have posted this list previously on the web, but it bears repeating. It reinforces what you are saying with your list of 12 items.

In my experience, here are the top 5 enablers or assets that assist change, followed by the top 5 obstacles to change.

Top Enablers/Assets:
1)Your organization and you are experiencing a crisis, perhaps one that threatens your existence and, like a tsunami coming ashore, relentlessly drives you before it.
2)Everyone is focused on that crisis. Have you ever been on a plane and heard a loud “boom!”? Everyone goes quiet; people look around or at each other, and wonder “What was that?” They are alert and prepared to meet the danger.
3)Leadership that shows the way forward, and channels peoples’ fears and panic, hopes, dreams of survival and better days, and energies.
4)A willingness to “link arms” and work together to emerge from the crisis together.
5)A strong survival instinct, where the tagline is “failure is not an option.”

Top Obstacles to Change:
1)A comfort level or even fixation with the way things are, remarkably, no matter how miserable or painful. People would rather complain than change.
2)A fear of the unknown, or better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know.
3)Weak or non – existent leadership.
4)Infighting.
5)The belief that failure is a perfectly acceptable option, and maybe even the preferred solution.

May 26, 2011 7:14 pm

Christian Paulsen

Excellent list and explanation! Awareness of these reasons why people resist change can go a long way towards overcoming that resistance. Seeking input, communicating plans, and listening to concerns go a long way towards resolving many of these obstacles to successful change implementation.

Thanks for sharing!

Chris

June 11, 2011 1:17 pm

Rich

Last sentence is key for me. Too many people assume that because the business case and rationale stacks up people will change. Emotional engagement trumps rationale every time

June 13, 2012 5:35 pm

benbvsr

I would suggest these traits of management style that set the environment for failure.  Communication, Trust, competence, “old ways” etc. re enforce a stagnant culture.  As we all know, if management isn’t demonstrating the behavior that is desired, why would anyone else??

June 25, 2012 1:28 pm

peterahunter

The last sentence replaces the rest of the article.
When the workforce are engaged with change they will support it.
When they are not they will resist it.
 
If we know how to engage the workforce we will do so and experience the amazing experience of working with the workforce instead of against them.
 
If we don’t know what to do to allow the workforce to engage we will continue to look in lists like this for the things that we can do to them to prevent them from resisting what someone else wants to do to them.
 
Engagement is not something we “do” to others to achieve an end.
Engagement is the way that people feel about what they do and we can’t change that.
What we can do is to create the environment that will allow people to engage, then they will choose to engage, we can’t make them.
 
Peter A Hunter
http://www.breakingthemould.co.uk

June 25, 2012 1:40 pm

peterahunter

The last sentence replaces the whole of the article.
 
When the workforce are engaged with change they will support it.
When they are not they will resist it.
 
If we know how to engage the workforce we will do so and experience the amazing feeling of working with the workforce instead of against them.
 
If we don’t know what to do to allow the workforce to engage we will continue to look for lists like this for the things that we can do to prevent them from resisting what someone else wants to do to them, change.
 
Engagement is not something that we do to others to achieve an end.
Engagement is the way that people feel about what they do, and we can’t change that.
 
What we can do is to create the environment that will allow them to engage, then they will choose to engage for themselves, we can’t make them engage.
 
Peter A Hunter

June 26, 2012 12:51 am

Rick Fowler

There is one more source of resistance, though maybe something on this list is meant to cover it. The loss or threat of loss of something important. Sometimes the uncertainty of what will be lost generates the fear and resistance. Sometimes what is being lost, is very clear, e.g., power and control, privileges or benefits, status, identity, and of course many other possible things. When change takes something away that is important, some kind of resistance may arise.

June 29, 2012 3:29 pm

Traci Buxton

Excellent article! Change is hard for many people and requires repeated reassurance, very clear communication for both management and staff as well as a great deal of patience in order to achieve long-lasting results.

July 5, 2012 2:41 pm

KatokaAus

Such common sense, yet so often forgotten.  Thanks for the reminder

September 26, 2012 7:57 am

anupsoans

The graph is more powerful than the 12 reasons from trainer’s perspective.

December 6, 2012 10:28 am

Torben Rick

The last sentence replaces the whole of the article.
 
When the workforce are engaged with change they will support it.
When they are not they will resist it.
 
If we know how to engage the workforce we will do so and experience the amazing feeling of working with the workforce instead of against them.
 
If we don’t know what to do to allow the workforce to engage we will continue to look for lists like this for the things that we can do to prevent them from resisting what someone else wants to do to them, change.
 
Engagement is not something that we do to others to achieve an end.
Engagement is the way that people feel about what they do, and we can’t change that.
 
What we can do is to create the environment that will allow them to engage, then they will choose to engage for themselves, we can’t make them engage.
 
Peter A Hunter

February 2, 2013 11:37 pm

BobElinger

The gross presumption of the writer and management attendees of the article is not surprising considering the degree of dysfunctionality of the worldview presented. If the cause for change comes from management itself, that management itself operates from fallacious principles, then resistance is necessary. If a workforce is subject to abrasive, belligerent, and threatening management then common morality and ethics mandates resistance. The hypocracy of modern American business is that while persons in management conduct their own lives under common conventions of social contract and morality, they demand to be excused from the same conventions in the business place — they insist on treating subordinates in any manner they please for the good of profits, stockholders, or the mere ego of the CEO. Moreover, the perspective of the writer assumes that might is right, that authority bears no responsibility in its actions…as long as the flow of authority is maintained. I submit that this cancerous false pride within American management is ‘the’ poison pill that has brought our nation to its knees economically. Without ethics and morality in business, the pursuit of profit becomes a workplace nightmare. With millions upon millions of Americans unemployed by no fault of their own, the premise of this article is beyond preposterous.

January 24, 2014 6:38 am

Kylie Cantwell

Great list, Rick. I’ve seen all of these at work in various projects and changes over the years. Communicating effectively with people, building trust, selling the benefits, and making the change as easy as possible for them, are so important.

March 2, 2014 8:18 pm

Desiree Clay

I agree whole heartily with Duncan Brodie, I have implemented changed from the heart, but first It all starts in there minds. Gaining trust and giving them confidence.

April 5, 2014 11:55 am

Jabir

excellent article …

April 25, 2014 8:24 am

Jan Van Dyck

Experience is also a reason. When people have experienced that change causes problems and offers no improvement on their situation (but is done for the sake of change and the managers bonus) it is common sense to resist change. Ethics, culture and integrity breed acceptance.

April 25, 2014 1:35 pm

Tukele Sarah Joy

The reason why people resist change in organization. I really enjoyed this tips and it has really exposed me to some things like the self – esteem (the denial, anger, confusion, depression, Crisis, new confidence, and acceptance.

July 6, 2014 3:36 pm

James Butler

I’m James Butler Senior Irish Citizen

It is to do with one’s brain

Each of us works through our environment and our brain dendrites has information to register, these are called concepts. I call them Sentinels or mirror Sentinels, We have accepted these concepts for we believe that they are assistance to the welfare of our body; but we have received these concepts from the intelligence of the Church and State, namely our parents teachers etc
In the past our education was based on reading writing and mathematics
This system of educating the brain suited the way the New Testament was composed, for it thought the Brain how to register selected information which the intelligence of the State could draw on for what was termed the common good, but it was only fully helpful for the majority
The way they brought about serious change was by sacrifice and the sacrifice was carried out by blackmail and motivation of alarming events,to make people think
Bureaucracies and Judiciaries are creating change at VIP level and they have Politicians to play it out like children managing to get rid of their Nannie or carer
Let me put forward my opinion that I have no solid proof for; but it can allow the reader to look at it with the knowledge on the readers mind

We have had a recession and still have. my theory is that this recession was thought up in around 1979 when Ireland took on the style of being say another satellite state of the United States of America getting rid of bungalow bliss and building bigger houses for for smaller families
The Psychologists thinking business people of the United States seen it an opportunity for them to get a return on all the money they put into Europe/ Germany after the war
They also have claim on west Germany as well as England (note how GB has not fully joined) They knew that Hitler was endeavouring to get control of Europe. Now If Hitler was thinking like that, many senior German people still think that way due to their education
America seen that Germany would be delighted to get some economic control of Europe while she the US was still in the driving seat

With Germany influence they encouraged the European Union to come to gather on a means to get central control. This they done in my opinion by having the top VIPs of the European countries to sit down and agree on how to get central control
What they appear to have agreed on was to allow very low interest rates , and encourage speculators to borrow and have the countries build up infrastructure etc and when they would be over borrowed and the countries bankrupt, the people or Governments would be obliged to come with their begging bowl and the countries are caught and like a game of chess they are in check
Here they US in the driving seat has brought about this change
But to be fair we are to our lugs in paper debt; but we have built up our country with all kinds of building construction a bit like the phenomenal angels
The drive at the end of the boom with easy loans was to try and get as much building work done as the VIP at the top knew this golden period was nearing it’s end,so it was grab all you could and count the paper money debt say $ = €100000000000000000000 no end they can employ stall for deleting and adding noughts as necessary
They have successfully got the change but will Europe be able to cling on to it The fulcrum is moving over and Nanna with her blackthorn stick with the children would be more than confused

To bring about change it is best to be well taught out and start with the baby children at school, the way they always done it having the parents reading the babies books stories with political influence. Remember the one Glug and Grug and the Irish Civil war with Fine Gael and Fianna Fail. Step to gather boldly thread firm each foot erect each head bla bla
Bye my dears I on the way out 80 i am on the 25th July 2014

November 30, 2014 12:42 pm

Denis Kelly

Torben

I have read this blog a number of times and every time I do I become more convinced that its not resistance to change is the problem but a failure to gain the buy-in or commitment of the people impacted by the change. Taking the view that they are not the problem its ua who need to change the way we manage change can establish a very different dynamic. How often do we see engagement in the form of more one way communications, more spin and more trashing of the past. One organisation that carries its pride in the past and moves on is the military with medals, banners etc. Bridges Transition Model offers a very useful approach of acknowledging the past before moving on. Is failure to do that reason 13…..

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