Overcoming Resistance to Change

Have you ever heard the saying “If the people won’t change, then you need to change the people”? What do you interpret that to mean?

One possible interpretation is that when people don’t change of their own volition, then you need to force the change. A second interpretation is that you should get rid of the current crop of people and find yourself some folks who are more amenable to the change in question. Since the quote didn’t originate with me, I can’t say for certain whether one (or both) of these interpretations is wrong. What I can and will do is propose an alternative perspective.

#1 Globally ranked coach Peter Bregman recently hosted a WBECS webinar during which he asserted that people don’t resist change but rather they resist being changed. If we accept that premise, then we must reconsider the merit of any plan that includes forcing people to change.

Resistance produces friction. In turn, friction opposes movement and reduces efficiency.

So how then do we achieve the change that is required in a way that is both effective and efficient? The answer lies in getting people to want to change. And that brings us to the six questions.

The Questions

  1. How would you rate your level of awareness of the need for the change?
  2. How motivated are you to participate in the change?
  3. What knowledge do you need to be able to contribute to/participate in the change?
  4. What additional skills or enabling conditions do you need to implement the change?
  5. Do you have the emotional courage to proceed with the change despite any fears or concerns you might be experiencing?
  6. What measures can you put in place to future proof or sustain the change?

Of course, merely asking questions won’t produce the desired result. However, by systematically addressing each of the following questions in the order in which they are presented, you can position yourself to effect positive change and to ensure that the change is sustainable. The remainder of the article is dedicating to helping you do just that.

ADKAR Model of Change

The ADKAR Model of Change is based on the fundamental understanding that organisational change can only happen when individuals change. Therefore, the model focuses on individual change—guiding individuals through a particular change and addressing any roadblocks or barrier points along the way.

ADKAR is an acronym that covers the five outcomes an individual needs to achieve for a change to be successful – namely:

  • Awareness
  • Desire
  • Knowledge
  • Ability and 
  • Reinforcement

ADKAR begins by creating an awareness of the need for change. It then builds on that awareness to create within each individual the desire to be a part of the change. It is important to note that the factors that stimulate desire will vary from person to person. Therefore, those promoting the change are required to segment and target the message so that it resonates with the respective receivers.

What motivates one person to support the change may have little impact, no impact or a contrary impact on someone else. Therefore, adopting a single message or a one size fits all approach is destined to fail.

From Wanting Change to Effecting Sustainable Change

After overcoming the hurdle of stimulating a desire for change, attention must then turn towards ensuring that the individual has both the knowledge and ability to effect the change. The bad news is that simply providing training is not a silver bullet. There are two intangibles that must be present for the change to be effected and sustained. They are emotional courage and future proofing.

Effect the Change with Emotional Courage

Emotional courage refers to the willingness to act in the face of negative emotions. An example is feeling fear but proceeding to take action anyway.

“Emotional courage is the willingness to feel, and the driving force behind anything that we accomplish.”                                                                                                                                                                                                    [Peter Bregman]

Emotional courage is what enables us to participate in change when we are uncertain or even afraid of the outcome. It’s important to understand that emotional courage doesn’t mean that you ignore your feelings. Rather, you acknowledge the feelings AND take action.

Dr. Susan David’s emotional agility aligns nicely with Bregman’s emotional courage. She recommends that we acknowledge our thoughts and feelings and explore them from a position of curiosity, and then go on to act on our values.

Both emotional courage and emotional agility enable us to change even when the change in question is associated with a measure of fear, uncertainty, or anxiety.  We can feel the fear and do it anyway.


Sustain the Change by Future Proofing It

Even if you overcome initial resistance and succeed in effecting change, there is still a risk that the change will not be sustained. Future proofing mitigates that risk by anticipating the future and developing methods of minimising the effects of shocks and stresses that could derail the change.

Future proofing is part of the Reinforcement stage of the ADKAR model. Reinforcement can be either positive or negative. Positive reinforcement reward those who implement the change and motivate them to sustain it. Negative reinforcement provides unwanted consequences for those who fail to support the new way of doing things.

Another way to future proof a change is to ensure that it is resilient – i.e., that it can adapt as required to ensure ongoing relevance and efficacy in face of changes in either the internal or external environment. After all, as we all know the only thing that’s constant is change.


For more insights and tips click to download a complimentary copy of  “Becoming Change Able” – a chapter from my book Managers’ First Aid Kit.


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