Richard Batchelor

Change Management & Strategic Human Resources

September 9  2011

Managing Change Resistors

If only it was as easy as saying “resistance is futile” [Star Trek fans will be familiar with this phrase]. This is the group of change recipients I personally find the most challenging to work with, and that phrase is just about the epitome of describing how these people frustrate me - they don’t want to work with you on anything about the change event!

So how can I best and politely describe these people? They are the silent weights that won’t move. Often they have been in a comfortable working situation for many years and like it just the way it is! They can be vocal, but I often find these are the people who say little when discussing change, and sit there in stony silence, staring either straight at you with a look that says “heard it all before”, “this will never work” of “here we go again” of they just stare at the floor. Their main goal is to try and divorce themselves from proceedings and ignore what is happening, presumably on the futile hope that it will go away!

The most challenging element of working with resistors is that they can sap the energy out of the room. They are not expending any energy, and I have often found them to act like some form of black hole, sucking the life force from the room. This is why any meeting arranged, needs to have a mix of change types in it. A room full of resistors and you may well end up needing counselling and psychiatric treatment! Well perhaps that’s a little extreme, but I do think that they can negate any positive energy in a room very quickly if not managed.

Now that brings us to the challenge, how to manage these people well? In my experience, you need to expend quite a bit of personal energy trying to get some movement in opinion from these people. I referred to them as weights, and I do see them that way - heavy burdens that need a focussed push to move into another arena. However, when you have moved them, fortunately they tend to stay there.

Tactics to employ for getting the resistor to move include, one to one discussions about their value to the business, organization etc. You need to stroke a bit of ego and convince them of their value. Then you need to show them how much they give to the business, how much it depends on them and then move into the sphere of depending on them for the future – including this change. I have found that competency in the work plays a big part for these people, so I also tend to push on wanting to stay knowledgeable, effective, performing, etc. and that can only be achieved by moving on to the new way of doing things – that works better with process and system changes best.

If you are considering organizational changes such as restructures and redefining roles, the only success I have had with these people involved showing how they will have the same sphere of influence and cultural position after the change as they had before. I wouldn’t even try and make it more, in case they see it as a way of burdening them with more work for no reward.  As a final point, the only way I have ever got them to communicate freely as either been through writing or completing online requests – where they can provide anonymous information, or once I had a moment of playing devil’s advocate and challenge a few resistors on a team to get on board the ship before it sails without them, and then they will be left behind for ever. IT was perhaps a little harsh but it did get a reaction that I was able to use through continuing the metaphor and using roles and places on board a ship to bring them on board!

Generally I find about 40% of the workforce are in this category. Unfortunately, I would say that those working in public service and government officialdom, tend to have a higher proportion maybe over  50%, and that is to the detriment of the acceptors. Whether this is a reflection of longer stable careers that they are protective of or just bureaucracy filtering through to the people culture, I honestly don’t know.  However, any work you may do with public service institutions will need more effort because of this high proportion.

There is one final word of caution I would give. When working with resistors, there is the hope and desire to move them towards being acceptors, but there is also the chance they may move towards saboteur territory. I’ll be talking about saboteurs in the next posting and will be revisiting these change recipient types again in the future to see the movement between them.

  

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