Resistance to Change

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In business and in life, resistance to change is expected and is quite common. But, resistance is an especially germane topic for those in the process improvement space or are aiming to change for the better our organizations. Resistance is a fact of life. But, resistance is also a pattern that is quite predictable. From my experience, I’ve been able to catalog patterns of resistance and also potential root causes and their countermeasures.

Below is a table of common forms of resistance to change that can either make or break your change management efforts. These table is relevant, regardless of crisis your company might be facing.

Common Forms of Resistance to Change, Root Causes, and Countermeasures

Common Complaint

Root Cause


“This is just another ‘flavor of the month.'” Multiple past initiatives have been launched with high fanfare and little results or staying power Demonstrate leadership belief…
  • Select best people as change leaders and assign them to the most important problems in the business.
  • Minimize fanfare (hoopla without substance).
  • Integrate into daily operation of the business; a review of Lean or Six Sigma efforts should be on every executive team agenda.
“I don’t have time…cannot free up resources.” Too many projects or activities in process
  • Identify and stop other initiatives and even Lean or Six Sigma projects that are either not related to current strategic priorities or that will make only a minor contribution.
“This does not apply in my part of the business.” Misconception about how Lean or Six Sigma works; lack of information about how it applies Lean Six Sigma has been proven in all business sectors and applications.
  • Have team members from inside business make presentations to co-workers throughout the company.
  • Procure case studies from other companies that demonstrate project success in areas relevant to the business.
  • Invite outside speakers to make presentations to managers and employees.
Unwillingness to provide “best people” as kaizen leaders Would rather apply them to their own highest priorities
  • Involve several layers of managers in identifying the priorities for the Lean Six Sigma efforts. Cascade the decisions throughout the organization.
  • Incorporate progress towards these priorities into annual business goals for each manager.
  • Drive alignment of priorities through the project selection process.
“The results are not real.” Lack of confidence that the results will materialize
  • Deploy detailed, conservative “rule book” for tracking project financial results.
“How is this different from past quality and improvement initiatives?” Fatigue from multiple quality initiatives
  • Explain and demonstrate key differences.
“Is this just a way to cut people or reduce headcount?” Fear and/or mistrust
  • Drive a desired mix of projects – x% cost reduction, y% growth, z% capital effectiveness. Communicate honestly about expected impacts. Most companies work hard to avoid job cuts related to Lean Six Sigma. If productivity gains mean fewer workers are needed on a particular process, the companies will either (a) use the capacity to take on additional business, or (b) cross-train employees so they can take on other job responsibilities.
“Is this incremental to my existing business plan?” Don’t want to add to existing workload
  • Align all Lean or Six Sigma work to directly support the existing business plan, rather than developing a set of collateral goals.
  • Answer the “what’s in it for me” concern, which underlies this root cause.
“Does management really believe or support it?” Lack of confidence that everyone is on board
  • Genuine leadership engagement in the process is required – not just talk.
  • Make sure executives are speaking using the language of Lean and showing visible support through behavior

One word of caution: as in most things, it’s not so much about persuading the “head” or intellectually convincing someone. It’s more about persuading the heart and emotions. Data is interesting and can be helpful, but the heart and emotion is what truly converts people and makes them champions for your cause. Remember this and behave accordingly.


  1. Nosybear says

    There are many ideas out there about how to effect change in an organization but only one way to actually do it: One person at a time. The Prosci Institute has a good body of work on the subject, I’m particularly fond of their ADKAR (Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, Reinforcement) model. It stresses that resistance to change is a rational response among people who feel their sense of security or well-being is threatened. Having recently experienced an unplanned, unwanted change in my job, I have recent, first-hand experience with a disruptive change. Neither of the managers in question used any form of change management. The result: Another change is coming soon, one neither of the two managers will particularly like. The first loses his support and the second loses his headcount. Better change management might have averted both.

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