10 indicators of resistance to change

by | Aug 27, 2013

Terms like restructure, reform and change can evoke negative emotions in people. Alternative language, such as reinvention, renewal, evolution or adaptation, feels more positive and optimistic. However, what can’t be sugar coated is that when the status quo shifts not everyone will be pleased. Indeed some can be very upset. For change leaders, navigating the naysayers can be a grind. Yet most of the responses are predictable and sometimes the best response is to lighten the mood.

Here are 10 common reasons you can expect to hear from people who are less than enthused about buying-in to your initiative for change and innovation:

  1. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. It’s better to innovate now instead of waiting for it to break. Note that the horse and cart, fax machines and rotary dial phones were not broken, but new options exist today.
  2. Better the devil you know. What is really meant is ‘let’s go with the usual suspects, because we already know how and what they think.’
  3. We tried that before and it didn’t work. Tell that to Edison – 10,000 attempts to figure out how to make a light bulb work before success. The key is to learn from last time, consider what is different now and persist.
  4. Don’t rock the boat. What is meant is that the change will rock their boat. Look closely to see who is actually in this boat.
  5. It’s unrealistic. An all-time favourite. Was Captain Cook unrealistic? What about Sir Edmund Hilary, Bill Gates, Fred Hollows and Tim Flannery?
  6. It’s not ‘what’ people want. People often don’t know what they want until innovators make it available. Henry Ford was successful when people likely wanted faster horses. 60 years ago, if you asked people what they wanted, they would have said better radios, not television or the internet. 10 years ago, they might have said a better mobile phone, camera, video recorder, laptop, portable DVD, Dictaphone, or electronic game, not a smart phone that could roll all those technologies into one portable device.
  7. We were not consulted. What is really being said here is that the analysis and views of other people must be flawed and can’t be trusted. If you have to address every objection before innovating, nothing will change.
  8. Let’s wait and see. What is meant is delay as long as possible in the hope that momentum for change will be lost.
  9. Yes but… Whatever follows this is usually a problem, not a solution. And don’t be fooled when people use ‘actually’ when they really mean ‘but’.
  10. ‘They’ are to blame. Here, people are taking the position of a victim. Replace ‘they’ with ‘the government’, ‘supermarkets’, ‘corporate business’, ‘activist group’, ‘another country/state’ ‘the CEO’ and so on. The change dialogue works best when focused on responsibility and solutions, not blame and problems.

Reforms are usually pursued because there are potential future benefits for an organisation, society, environment, or industry. Yet people will always react more to the reality of a loss today than to the promise of a possible but uncertain benefit sometime in the future.

Leading change and innovation successfully involves observing the language and actions of different stakeholders. Then, you can become more sophisticated in playing the game as different stakeholders and their ploys can be understood and managed in different ways.

For more insight, refer to Robert Kriegel and David Brandt’s book titled Sacred Cows Make the Best Burgers.

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