Why Do We Resist? Categorizing the Different Types of Resistance | Quisitive
Why Do We Resist? Categorizing the Different Types of Resistance
September 21, 2021
Spencer Stern
In Adoption and Change Management (ACM) initiatives, there are several reasons people resist change. Read our blog and find out more.

Ah yes, an age old question, why do people resist change? A simple question that does not have a simple response. Is it because we are creatures of habit or is it that we crave consistency over correctness? Perhaps it is because we as individuals, as well as organizations desire stability and constancy and that change just makes us plain uncomfortable? Whatever the driver, and there are many, I have seen many organizations adjust their behavior to conform to organizational norms, regardless of how inefficient or ineffective those business processes may be.

In Adoption and Change Management (ACM) initiatives, there are several reasons people resist change, but the ones I see most consistently include:

  • Threatens stability and status – (e.g., People have built their careers around a specific expertise, a tool, or a role which provides job security, commands respect, and ensures integration with other key personnel in an organization)
  • Endangers power – (e.g., People who have built a team, control a significant budget, or have a strong voice in how their operations are run, could be threatened by a potential re-structuring)
  • Creates anxiety – (e.g., When change occurs, people get anxious about their position, role, standing, etc. and tend to lose focus)

I have seen this behavior recently during a Microsoft Dynamics Customer Relationship Management (CRM) project. The client, a large manufacturing company, was deploying a Dynamics CRM solution to replace an existing CRM system that had been utilized for more than 10 years. The system was their primary sales and account planning tool. The CRM system was well liked by a large percentage of employees but because it had not been updated, its functionality lagged significantly behind Dynamics CRM. The organization’s executives and senior managers conducted a thorough, inclusive procurement process and eventually selected Dynamics 365 (D365) after a nearly eight-month process.

During this process, the procurement team identified a significant amount of employee resistance, especially from personnel on the pre-sales team. Since they were able to isolate this pocket of resistance early on, the procurement team added new personnel onto their team that had a pre-sales focus to ensure that their voices were heard during the process. This proved to be a wonderful idea, as internal resistance significantly subsided because the pre-sales team’s feedback was being integrated into the procurement, as well as software design process.

To clarify, in ACM scenarios, I feel that resistance is not “all bad.” There are some very positive aspects of resistance which should not be overlooked, including:

  • Resistance may indicate that an employee is inquisitive and engaged in the process
  • It may force the project or procurement team to re-visit and validate assumptions
  • It presents an early indicator of the potential feasibility of the project or specific issue within the project

I have worked on several large-scale CRM initiatives and an important step in the change process involves conducting interviews with impacted employees and segmenting them into one of the three categories discussed below.

  • Group 1- Open to Change
  • Group 2- Uncertain about Change
  • Group 3- Strong Resistors of Change

These interviews should be conducted by the Change Management Champions (CMC) after the impacted employees have been identified (reference the Creating the Secret Sauce – Selecting Change Management Champions blog).

After the interviews are concluded the CMCs should meet and categorize all the impacted employees into the groups using the suggested parameters listed below.

Group 1 – Open to Change

This groups is open to change and will be openly supportive of the change effort. You will be engaging their support and visible participation to help move the change forward. Each employee in the group can become a strong and active advocate for change, and can influence conversations with other employees. Typically these are newer staff, or staff with exposure to other ways of doing things. They are the biggest supporters and generally compose about 10% of impacted staff.

Group 2 – Uncertain about Change

These employees make up the majority of employees. In some organizations, this can be in the range of 70% of the staff. These are the “middle of the road” employees that require a lot of time and attention. The success of the change effort, and the manner in which this group responds to the change, will depend largely on how effectively the change is managed. Frequently, the overall change management success hinges on this group. When I was working with the City of Cleveland, the CMCs developed a lot of communication vehicles that specifically targeted this group. These included in-person meetings, emails, and one-on-one sessions with executive sponsors and project team personnel. Due to this investment, many of these employees were successfully transitioned into Group 1.

Group 3 – Strong Resistors of Change

These employees may never change and most certainly will not initially support change within the organization. Sometimes they could be planning an exit to another department or even retirement. Other times, the concept of change scares them so much that the only reaction they are capable of is to resist. Generally 10% of the organization or less falls into this category. The CMC focus should be on managing rather than converting these employees. At a minimum, strategies and tactics need to be put in place to minimize the adverse impact they could have on the project.

In another client ACM project, the City of Cleveland, we had a challenging resistor who could have sabotaged the project. We attempted multiple communication vehicles to address this situation, but in the end an in-person meeting with an elected official helped stabilize this individual and prevented him from negatively influencing the project. This intervention helped the project team to move forward and enabled the CMC to focus on other Group 2 employees.

When deploying enterprise-wide projects it can be expected that employees will exhibit characteristics from each of these groups. Considering this, each of these groups requires different approaches when addressing resistance and organizations should develop strategies that address the various needs of these employees.

As you are pursuing your ACM initiatives, discuss different approaches that can be used to categorize employees based on their resistance levels, and share potential tactics that can be used to address personnel based on their resistance grouping.