Category Archives: Resistance

Engaging Your Audience in Conversations About Change

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As a first-generation American, language has always been an important part of my life. English was my second of five languages — we spoke two languages at home and I studied the remaining three at school. Having lived in eight different cities (seven in the US), I’ve also been fascinated by how differently we can all speak the same language.

So naturally, when I attended the Change Management 2015 conference in Las Vegas, I noticed a recurring theme of language in the context of change management. How you approach a conversation, as well as the language and vehicles you use, can impact the success of getting your message across to your audience.

As Nelson Mandela once said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”
Understanding your audience and speaking their language will help you as you work on a specific change initiative. For example, if the leaders and sponsors of your initiative are concerned about speed and quality, then it is important to use that same language in discussions about how change management helps achieve those objectives.

While this approach is beneficial in the context of a specific change effort, it can also be helpful in talking about the overall concept of change management. Many change management professionals have experienced resistance from sponsors and leaders due to a lack of clear understanding about what change management is. Given this, we were fortunate to have a general session one morning dedicated to the topic of how to create a compelling conversation about change.

During this session, we were challenged to come up with a metaphor to explain change management using language that might resonate with a potential sponsor. Here are some of the ideas we came up with at our tables using the prompt: Change Management is like…
A Marathon – Change efforts are often long-term initiatives with goals requiring a great deal commitment, training, and preparation. Change agents are like the volunteers at the race, providing help along the way and working to improve the endurance and health of the organization.
A Fairy Tale – Fairy tales generally start in one place and end in another. There’s always a journey and some challenges along the way, but change management provides the cast of characters to help you get to “happily ever after.”
Climbing a Mountain – Change management provides the right tools and the right commitment to get to the top of the mountain. Once you reach the top, you can see the new vision more clearly. But then, you have to sustain the change on the way down the mountain to ensure that employees are continuing to work in new ways and that the change is fully adopted.
WD40 – Change management helps create a smooth transition and reduce the friction that often accompanies change.
Preparing Your Family for a Move – Change management helps you understand where you are going, and provides a plan to help your people get there. And with change agents guiding the journey, your family can enjoy happy dinner conversations.
A Personal Trainer – Change management provides coaching and guidance along the journey to overall fitness. You may experience some discomfort during the process, and you’re going to have to sweat; however, the trainer guides you through the work needed to prepare your people to achieve success.
Flying a Plane – Change management helps you clarify your destination, provides a suitcase full of tools to help you manage the transition, and offers the expertise to help you avoid or smooth out any turbulence that may be encountered along the way.
A Midwife – In this metaphor, the organization is the mother and the change is the baby. You may be able to deliver the baby on your own, but not without incurring additional risk. Change management can help avoid a c-section.
Water on a Waterslide – ‘You can get down the slide without it — but it’s gonna hurt’. Change management helps achieve speed of implementation with minimal friction.

As you can see, we had a lot of fun with this exercise, and the responses were as varied as our potential audiences might be. The key takeaway is to take the time to understand your audience and do your best to speak their language so that your message will resonate. And mixing in a little humor along the way can help minimize resistance and keep your audience engaged in the conversation.

Do You Believe in Change?

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In today’s business environment, there’s no such thing as “steady state”.  Getting accustomed to making change happen quickly is an integral part of building and leading an effective organization.  Whether responding to customer demands, making course corrections when a strategy is running off the rails, or quickly integrating a new product or service line when the perfect opportunity drops in your lap, organizations need to change fast.

When it comes to organizational change, there are some things that leaders should know, and some common misconceptions that should be dispelled.  Here’s what you should believe, and what you should not believe.

BELIEVE:  Organizational changes happen when individuals within the organization change.  Organizations are essentially groups of individuals.  New processes, structures and rules can be put in place, but if people are not committed to new ways of thinking and acting, the changes are not likely to be successful.

BELIEVE:  The human reactions that occur during any given change are at least as important as any other aspect of implementing change.  People naturally and inevitably react emotionally when we ask them to think and act in new ways.  The behavior of the people who make the organization work changes as individuals move through their individual transition process and develop commitment.

BELIEVE:  The more involved people are in a change, the less negative their inevitable reactions will be.  People naturally support what they help create.

BELIEVE:  The emotional response people will have to a change intensifies as the speed of change increases.  If you want change to happen fast, you can expect there to be stronger resistance than if you are on a “we’ll get to it when we get to it” timeline.

BELIEVE:  The longer a group, individual, or situation has remained static, the greater the investment in the status quo and the greater the resistance to change.  The fact that people are proud of what they do and how they do it is a great thing – except when you want to change it.

While there are basic truths that leaders should believe about change, there are also some little-white-lies about change that they should not believe.

NOT BELIEVE:  Time takes care of everything.  People are able to think and act in new ways by moving through the human process of transition and developing commitment – not through sitting and waiting.  Without intervention, that process can take weeks, months, years, or may never fully happen.  (William Bridges, Managing Transitions, 1991 & 2003 William Bridges and Associates)

NOT BELIEVE:  Everyone who isn’t on board with a change has something wrong with them.  New neuroscience research confirms that it takes more physical energy to do new things than it does to do things the same old way.  And the natural human reaction is to conserve that physical energy. Resistance is a natural response to change.  (Rock and Schwartz, “The Neuroscience of Leadership”, Strategy + Business, Issue 43)

NOT BELIEVE:  The reasons for the change will be seen in a rational manner and will therefore be easy for people to go along with.  People are not singularly rational beings.  There is an emotional connection that people need to make to really commit to the new way.  (Lee Colan, Passionate Performance, 2004 Cornerstone Leadership)

NOT BELIEVE:  If communication is done “right” the first time, it is enough.  People generally need to “hear” a message anywhere from eight to ten times to really get it.  And “right” is different during a change process for each person.  While there are times that a company-wide meeting and presentation is what people need, there are also times when they need a one-on-one conversation with a boss or a roundtable conversation with peers.

NOT BELIEVE:  Change happens at or on a scheduled discrete event.  While new processes, structures or rules can be scheduled to start or take place on a specific date, people travel through their individual transition over some period of time.

Based on the facts and the fiction, it may seem that we should all throw our hands up and go home.  But luckily there are proven ways to manage change that can deal with the challenges that are presented with changing organizations.

According to a recent study by Prosci, the most important element of effective organization change is having effective and engaged sponsors.  Second is effective communication and third is involvement by employees.  Next, the fourth critical success factor for effective change is the use of a common easy-to-use methodology and language around change.  And rounding out the top five is the use of easy-to-use and well organized tools that support the application of change management.  (“Enterprise Change Management” Prosci Research, 2006)

Kate Nelson is a partner with Change Guides, LLC ( and a co-author of The Change Management Pocket Guide.  She can be reached at


The Return on Investment for Change Management

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Our clients ask us all the time about the return on investment for time and money spent managing change. Studies conducted by McKinsey several years ago showed a correlation between successfully managing change and increased returns from the changes studied. But the study provided no clear formula or way of calculating the increased value of future changes. We know that the benefits of investing in change management come from increased speed of adoption, adoption rates, and the skills or abilities of people who will take on new ways of working. So we were wondering… how do you measure the return on the investment in change management?

We asked past Change Management Certification Participants the following questions about their return on change management investments.
How do you justify the use of change management on your projects?

Lots of respondents said that they basically don’t justify the use of change management on projects. For some, they don’t because they don’t need to. Their leadership teams just know intuitively that it helps. For others, their lack of justifying the use of change management is a problem that they are continuously battling when resistance to change management arises.

A few justify change management with surveys and sharing the successes of change management in previous projects.
Have you measured the return on investment for change management? If so, what did you measure in order to determine the ROI of change management?

Most of you haven’t measured the return on change management investments. For those that have, measuring productivity of the workforce before and after a change was suggested, along with measuring adoption rates and surveying people about their engagement in a new way of working.

Several folks commented on the “soft” or “intangible” benefits of change management and the difficulty in measuring it.

In which change management activities do you invest the most money?

The most common things noted were communications (planning, executing, and materials), bringing stakeholders together for communication and engagement, and training.
Thanks for those of you that shared your experiences with the ROI of change management. There is no formula that we can point to just yet. But if you are thinking about measuring the benefits of the change management work you are doing, look to the cost savings or benefits for the organization that result from: faster adoption of new ways, greater utilization of the change, and greater skill or ability to use the changes. Good luck and let us know how it goes!

Our Change Management Pocket Guide is now an App!

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change-pocket-guide-app-iconMany of our customers have asked over the past year about offering our Change Management Pocket Guide as an eBook. We listened. Change Guides is very excited to introduce The Change Management Pocket Guide in a mobile App format!

Here is some information about our new App:

The Change Management Pocket Guide mobile application is a practical resource for anyone tasked with making change happen. The tactical, hands-on electronic pocket guide is a fully functioning and integrated mobile app solution for Android and Apple devices.

Like the hard copy book, the Change Management Pocket Guide app uses the Change Management 101 Model to step you through three major phases of managing change: Plan, Do and Sustain. These three major phases are broken down into the two specific stages as you move from one phase to the next. The tools in the Change Management Pocket Guide are used to interactively gather information, set milestones, and measure progress. There are over 30 valuable change management tools and templates that are integrated within the mobile solution so that they can be purchased, downloaded and easily customized to match the requirements of your specific change challenge. Each tool in the change toolbox is detailed, flexible and scalable.

Use the In-App purchase functionality to download the tools you need directly from the Change Management Pocket Guide and customize them for your project. Each downloadable tool has already been created in Word and Excel and can be used as they are explained in the Change Management Pocket Guide.

Overview of App Functionality

The Change Management Pocket Guide mobile app allows you to use the “tools for managing change” in an interactive and useful format. You can read and learn about the Change Management 101 Model™ and use the tools, answer key questions and build your own change management solution with an actionable plan for each change initiative you encounter. The mobile app is designed around the following functional areas:

  • PDF Reader format: A consistent format with the ability to search, bookmark pages and zoom in/zoom out
  • Integrated Change Pocket Guide companion templates: In-App purchase functionality for all Change Management Pocket Guide templates
  • In-App share integration using Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn

To Purchase the Change Management Pocket Guide App: Visit the App Store ( or the Play Store ( today to buy the app for your mobile device.

About the developer: Apptimize Group is a mobile application design and development company that creates general and enterprise internally deployed mobile client solutions. Our focus is to create simple and useful mobile apps that make for a memorable customer experience. For more information visit and contact John Gurnick at

A Walk In Their Shoes

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One of the best ways to help people navigate through change is to put yourself in their shoes.  Looking at a situation from someone else’s perspective helps you understand what individuals and groups need to engage and commit to new ways of working.  

When thinking about an organizational change, consider the questions that people in the organization have on their minds.  If you were in their shoes, what would you want to know?

  • Why is the change happening?  People want to know why the change is happening.  Remember, if you are leading a change, you have had months of preparation and planning for the change.  For most employees, this is new information.  They may have heard rumors, but their first real information is when the change is announced or formally communicated.  Whatever the answer is to the “why” question, share as much as you can.  It is better that people get their information from the change leaders than making up their own answers.
  • If we just wait, won’t this just go away?  If people are burying their heads in the sand, get their attention and make sure they understand that the change will not simply disappear.  (If you have started and stopped projects or changes in the past, this is harder to sell, but it is still just as important.)  People who believe that this might just disappear are much less likely to commit their time and energy to the effort.  And that lack of engagement is a drain to productivity and limits the probability of the change’s success.  So people need to understand that this is not going away.  
  • What will the change mean to me?  Tell people what it means to them individually – or as specifically as you can.  The more specifics you can provide, the more their comfort level rises.
  • What is the risk of not changing?  Make sure that that people understand the consequences for the organization if change does not happen.  The risks of not changing for the organization can be anything from bankruptcy to loss of business to limited opportunities for growth.  If people understand how they would suffer as the organization would suffer, the realities of why the change needs to be successful may sink in.

Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is not always easy.  It requires us to think outside of ourselves and tap a level of empathy that might not be intuitive for some. 

If you are having a hard time figuring out what people might want to know or what questions they might have, the solution is quite simple… just ask them.  But to get started, ask yourself, “What would I want to know if I was in their place?” 

Culture and the Power of Habits

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As habits develop, mental activity for that action decreases.  The more automatic an action becomes, the more efficient the brain becomes.  The more efficient the brain, the more the brain can focus on matters that require constant attention.  Habits are a really useful tool for the brain.

Enter Charles Duhigg and his book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business.  In his book, he explores how habits are formed by the brain.  The brain responds to a 3-step loop process that after very little repetition becomes a habit loop.  They are:

  1. Creating a Cue = a trigger for an automatic mode
  2. Building a Routine = a physical or mental pattern that can be very simple or incredibly complex
  3. Rewarding the behavior = the brain figuring out if the loop is worth remembering

While all habits are created in a similar way, not all habits are created equal.  Keystone Habits are habits that cause a chain reaction that help other habits take hold and widespread behavior shifts.

Within organizations, cultures grow from Keystone Habits.

Duhigg writes that “Much of a firm’s behavior is understood as a reflection of general habits and strategic orientations coming from the firm’s past…”  and that “organizational habits are important because otherwise most companies would never get any work done.”

Habits or culture within an organization provide all of the unwritten rules that guide behavior.  Habits provide the patterns and rules that people recognize they need to follow to get along and succeed.

When organizations embark on change, sometimes the changes are fighting against old habits.  If habits are getting in the way of progress, or if habits need to change, then there is a framework that Duhigg outlines to change organizational habits:

  • Identify the Routine – what is it to be changed?
  • Experiment with Rewards – What is the reward now?  What could the reward be? Link it with craving.  What cravings are driving particular habits?
  • Isolate the Cue – must figure out what the cue is.  Almost all fit into 5 categories:  Location, Time, Emotion, People, what is immediately proceeding the action?
  • Have a Plan – to re-engineer the habit, the brain must begin making choices again, the brain cannot work automatically. Devise a plan based on new choices.

Want more details?  Read the book.  It is a goldmine filled with insights and information that will be helpful to any Change Manager dealing with culture change.

Don’t Sweat Resistance

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Understanding and dealing with resistance is an important part of managing change.   Besides not having enough leadership support, resistance is one of the most common reasons that changes in organizations fail. When an organization wants to change what it accomplishes or produces, people in the organization need to change the way they work.

That probably doesn’t surprise anyone.  As a species we simply don’t like change.  We see it in ourselves, our family and friends, and people around us at work.  We brush our teeth with the same hand every day, we eat generally the same types of food week in and week out, we hang out with the same circle of friends, and we do generally the same things.

Our natural resistance to change sets up special challenges for organizations that are looking to change.

Resistance is everywhere in organization.  It can be pockets of leadership who haven’t jumped on the bandwagon yet.  It can be those individuals whose jobs are directly impacted.  Or it can be middle managers who are afraid of changes in structure or processes.  Regardless of where it is, experienced change managers expect resistance.

The keys to managing resistance successfully are to understand why people resist change, and to help mitigate, or alleviate some of the reasons for resistance.

Resistance can be caused by structural issues in organizations – like having functional silos that make communication flow difficult, or having reporting relationships that work against people collaborating like they should.

But, most often, resistance is personal.  Personal resistance can come from fear of the unknown, a perceived threat to expertise or prominence, or differences in views and experiences.  It can also come from the fact that we are just plain wired to resist change.  Try brushing your teeth with the wrong hand tonight.  It’s a lot more work that you’d think.  Asking someone to work differently is asking them to start brushing with their non-dominant hand.  The urge to switch back to what is comfortable is really hard to fight!

Once you have an idea of what is causing the resistance to a change you are working on, then comes the time to get to work alleviating some of those sources of resistance.  Turning a blind eye to valid concerns will simply slow down the momentum of the project.  Responding to legitimate concerns and clarifying any misunderstandings will go a long way toward helping alleviate some resistance.  A bit of empathy goes a long way too.  Letting people know that you understand it is hard will be appreciated and can alleviate some of the stress and friction that resistance can cause.

What we know is that a small percentage of folks will be “Innovators” and “Early Adopters” – people who jump on the change bandwagon quickly.  These people are the first to get on board because of either their natural tendency to be resilient, or their affinity to this specific change.  Managing the change for these people is a piece of cake.

It will be the big chunk of the population, the “Early Majority” and “Late Majority”, where change managers need to focus their attention.  Focusing on understanding what is causing resistance with this group will move you toward your critical mass of success.  And oh yes, there will be about that group who may never get with the program.  Don’t spend too much of your time on them.  When you have most of the population on the change bandwagon…then you are well on your way to success.

Resistance is inevitable.  It is OK.  Don’t get jaded by it.  Recognize it, figure out where it is coming from and why, and go deal with it head on!