1. Lessons In Leadership

Change management: Resistance is Fertile

Search Amazon for books on “change management” and you’ll get over 20,000 results. It seems everyone has theories about how to make change management work… and yet a McKinsey study suggests that only 30 percent of these efforts succeed. Companies with a good track record all work to build consensus—but this isn’t always as straightforward a process as it seems.

Too often, the people charged with leading change management point to resistance in the organization as the sole cause of failure. Eliminate or punish the people who obstruct change, and the path will be clear, right?


Wrong. It’s easy to blame people who won’t get on board with our ideas – and of course, change management can’t succeed without broad-based support. But some resistance isn’t necessarily a bad thing; I actually believe it can be good. It means that the people in your company who truly care are telling you what you need to be concerned about—and that can help as you work to effect positive, meaningful change.

I liken it to the definition of resistance we learned in high school science – where resistance is the measure of opposition to an electric current. If an electric circuit offers little or no resistance it means you have a potentially dangerous short circuit.  Conversely, a little resistance can help us manage the electrical flow.

It comes down to how we view the assignment. Instead of getting angry at signs of resistance, or trying to simply mandate change, a good leader looks for an opportunity to solve for the objection. It means creating a safe, constructive environment that allows people to share their concerns – or make recommendations – so that everyone is working toward the best outcome.

Leading people through change can be a daunting task and you can’t do it alone; you need to work toward consensus. The best way to do this is by being an expert listener, making it okay to address the uncomfortable, and understanding that resistance is a positive part of the process.

Remember—organizations don’t change, people do.