Change Management: How to overcome stakeholders’ resistance to change

Following up on some recent tweets on employee motivation and engagement, I was reacquainted with Gleicher’s Formula for Change, published by Beckhard and Harris (also known as Beckhard and Harris’s Change Equation). Although I agreed with the formula when I first saw it several years ago, I rather dismissed it as a statement of the obvious. On reflection, it is a more powerful tool in change management than I first gave it credit.

In June 2011 I wrote an article “Overcoming obstacles to successful change programmes” which covered 5 personal reasons why people resist change. I followed up with two articles dealing with aspects of stakeholder engagement predicated on the view that stakeholder engagement is necessary for successful change. These articles (“7 Essential Elements of Stakeholder Engagement”  and “Are your Procurement stakeholders champions or saboteurs?“) were directed at pre-empting stakeholder resistance rather than dealing with established resistance – the approach being that ‘prevention is better than cure!’

It is sometimes necessary to remove stubborn resistors, and this may be the most effective solution if the programme is under threat of being derailed by one or two people. To quote former US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, “The good followers know who the bad followers are, and they are waiting for you to do something about it.”  But the necessity to remove a significant number of negative people usually indicates a failure in design, planning or management. In such cases the root causes need to be addressed. Then the wayward stakeholders need to be turned round, and this is where Gleicher’s formula comes into play.

Three factors must be present for meaningful organizational change to take place:

  • dissatisfaction with the present (D);
  • vision of the possible (V);
  • practical first steps to make the change (F);

and the product of these factors must be greater than the resistance to change (R)

D x V x F > R

Resistance, at an individual level, may come from a combination of five sources:

  • Fear
  • Cynicism
  • Laziness
  • Bad(/fixed) habits
  • Arrogance

Exploring the underlying reasons for resistance directly with the individual can be counterproductive. So, rather than focus on reducing the resistance, it may be helpful to consider increasing the dissatisfaction, desirability and practicality at a personal level. A team approach to exploring the three factors – using  peer groups containing resistant and supportive stakeholders – is more likely to achieve engagement than a ‘selling’ exercise by the programme leader or sponsors.


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