Change Resistance

Change Resistance

Change Resistance Jonathan Poland

Change resistance is the act of derailing, slowing down, or preventing a change that is underway. This can often cause a change strategy, plan, or action to fail. Change resistance can take many forms, such as employees refusing to adopt new processes or systems, or stakeholders opposing the changes being made. Effective change management strategies often include measures to address and overcome change resistance in order to ensure the success of the changes being implemented.


People tend to resist change that they perceive as originating with the political opposition. This can occur even if the change is beneficial to all. If a change becomes politicized, it becomes almost certain that it will face strong resistance. For example, saving the environment could be a politically neutral issue but isn’t because people unnecessarily attach it to other political agendas. This makes the problem much harder to solve.

Change Fatigue

Change fatigue is a situation where teams have experienced a number of stressful projects that have reduced work-life balance and failed to achieve stated budget, timelines and benefits. These experiences make teams increasingly resistant to change.


Culture is a stabilizing force that tends to slow change. This is a type of social defense mechanism that prevents a group from creating instability with every new idea that someone proposes. Culture adapts to change with a process of shared experience whereby at first a culture resists change but comes around with time as they experience the change and find it has advantages. This can have benefits as culture can shape change to be more valuable.

Risk Tolerance

Individuals that have low risk tolerance value stability, safety and security over opportunity. Such individuals are likely to resist any change that isn’t planned and executed slowly.


Pessimism is the view that risk is likely to fail. This is an element of worldview that increases resistance to change.


Defeatism is when an individual allows pessimism to interfere with their performance. This occurs where an individual doesn’t fulfill their role in change because they feel its doomed anyway.

Malicious Compliance

Malicious compliance is a passive aggressive technique whereby an individual obstructs a society or organization by using its own rules, processes and procedures against it. For example, a business unit that submits “must have” requirements for a project that are essentially impossible to achieve in order to derail change.

Stakeholder Salience

Stakeholder salience is the degree to which a stakeholder in change is vocal, active and influential. In many cases, resistance to change is concentrated in a few stakeholders who are particularly vocal. A standard approach to change management is to try to sideline these individuals.


Reactance is the common tendency for individuals to strongly resist challenges to their sense of freedom. This plays a role in resistance to change as people may react against a change when they feel unconsulted. In this case, an individual essentially feels that a change is being forced on them.


Mediocrity is a tendency to cling strongly to the dominant group in order to enjoy safety, security and stability. The mediocre will resist a change that isn’t popular within their in-group and embrace a change that they perceive as accepted by their in-group. In many organizations, mediocrity is commonplace such that management will have difficulty defeating resistance to change that has become groupthink.

Fear of Failure

Individuals may fear that they lack the competence to achieve change or to thrive in the post-change world. For example, a worker in a dying industry who fears they lack the capability to thrive in a new industry that is replacing it. Training and experiences in the post-change world will quickly defeat this fear. For example, an coal miner who gains experiences installing a solar panel system may cease to resist the newer industry.

Defense of the Status Quo

The status quo is the way that things have been done for an extended period of time. People may strongly assume that the status quo is permanent. When this assumption is threatened they may fear that the world has become unstable such that they seek to defend the status quo.

Rational Thought

It is common to treat change resistance as if it is always inherently irrational. This is not the case. A strategy or decision may be flawed such that resistance to it is a completely rational act. For example, resistance to an IT project that has failed to consider how a glitzy new product will actually translate to more efficient business processes. A strategy that is realistic and valuable is less likely to face resistance.

Failure of Communication

In some cases, a strategy is realistic and valuable but leaders fail to communicate well such that the strategy is widely misunderstood. For example, a solar panel manufacturer that is constantly pushing hard to reduce unit costs that fails to sufficiently communicate to teams that this is the basic economics of survival in this industry.

Extrinsic Reward

Individuals who will directly benefit from extrinsic rewards associated with change are far more likely to support it. Likewise, people who are likely to lose out to change have incentive to resist. Including everyone in the extrinsic rewards of change with material incentives and social status defeats resistance to change.

Intrinsic Reward

Intrinsic reward is an outcome that is self-fulfilling. For example, an individual may view a change as an opportunity to acquire valuable knowledge and experience. It is possible for leaders to increase the intrinsic rewards of change by offering training, education and meaningful roles.

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