Change to meet your Needs

Monday, October 29, 2007

Resistance to Change if it comes from the top

Resistance to change is something every consultant expects to encounter. From the smallest to the largest of organizations, it seems some people will do almost anything to resist updating processes and equipment. However, few consultants have encountered the kind of organized opposition to change which goes far away from the 14 principles of the Management concept. If the opposition comes from the top and the attitude becomes negative towards change and give the fullest resistance for the Change for the good to implement the scenario becomes gloomy. The story line goes as given below. Lawrence landed a consulting contract for an international Govt project; his job was to bring a U.S. firm’s development processes and technologies up to date. The $500 million project called for object-oriented architecture and a non waterfall process, and Lawrence’s customer hoped the new methodologies would enable it to spread work to more companies across the world. However, Lawrence met with opposition from a man he came to call “the Mafia boss” because of his totalitarian rule over the staff. Find out what tactics Mr. Mafia used against Lawrence and how Lawrence dealt with the situation. Then tell us how you would have counteracted the underhanded methods employed by Mr. Mafia. The setup As the top consultant on the project, Lawrence was asked to teach, train, mentor, and facilitate the bottom four tiers of employees. His goal was to help the employees fulfill a development and integration contract using up-to-date methods and technology. Most of the staff were Ph.D.s and had enjoyed decades of success using older methods. Lawrence knew he’d meet some adversity with the changes he was bringing, but he had no idea his challenge would come from the top of the organization. “Within the first two weeks of being there, I heard rumors that the top person for whom I was responsible to consult ran the organization like the Mafia,” he said. “I laughed it off as corporate politics.” In the beginning, Lawrence ran into difficulties inducing the organizational changes he prescribed. It was particularly frustrating because there appeared to be no internal accountability and thus no motivation for the staff to change its ways, he said. Lawrence persevered and soon convinced a well-placed and influential architect that the new approach would mean great things for the organization. “I was relieved that the tide had finally turned,” Lawrence said. “He was going to bat for me. Now it was only a matter of time before everyone else caught on.” But it didn’t work out that way. The sting Soon after Lawrence had convinced the architect to spread the gospel of his new methods, the man disappeared. Lawrence learned that the architect had been “reassigned.” He also learned that Mr. Mafia had “no intention of using the processes and technologies called for in the contract” and, although it wasn’t being publicly announced, the contract would be fulfilled using the firm’s traditional methods. The new methods Lawrence was hired to teach would mean less work for Mr. Mafia’s firm in the long run. Lawrence speculated that Mr. Mafia, who had enjoyed the power and influence of being the customer’s supplier for this type of work, had no motivation to change his ways, and he felt he could force the customer to do it his way because “it always worked before.” Lawrence held an unpublicized meeting with the contract manager, Janet, who was responsible for satisfying the customer and internally allocating funds. At Lawrence’s urging, Janet hired Freddy as a short-term advisor in an attempt to “penetrate the shield” Mr. Mafia had laid. Not to be outdone, Mr. Mafia gave “strict orders” to all his top managers and engineers to “not tell the truth” about the project, and to give some pleasant, blase answers to the advisor about what was going on, Lawrence said. Despite being an expert in his field and “amazingly perceptive,” Freddy couldn’t ascertain the specifics of the problem due to the staff’s generic answers to his inquiry. Although it had been his idea for the contract manager to hire Freddy, Lawrence said he stayed clear of Freddy during the inquiry for “political and ethical reasons.” Also, he said he fully expected the people he worked with to answer direct questions with some degree of honesty. However, at the end of his inquiry, Freddy couldn’t find enough direct ammunition to cause real change, Lawrence said. “I was astounded that the team—remember these are smart, well-paid, experienced people—would go along with this,” Lawrence said. Repercussions Feeling defeated by the unyielding staff, Lawrence thought he had two choices: He could contact Freddy and detail Mr. Mafia’s underhanded ways, or trudge on and try his best to do what his customer had requested. “If I did shine a light in the dark places, perhaps I would be finished in this industry,” Lawrence said. He chose to contact the advisor anonymously and tell him about the goings-on. He included some “hard evidence” of Mr. Mafia’s instructions to lie to the advisor. The reaction from Mr. Mafia was swift and severe, according to Lawrence. “He sent some people to my office at various times and in different ways tried to get me to admit my guilt in exposing the Mafia boss and the organization,” Lawrence said. “They would say things like, ‘I know you blew our cover. How did you do it?’” Lawrence also learned that all the e-mail he’d sent through the company’s servers was being reviewed to find evidence of his betrayal. The Outcome Eventually, Mr. Mafia was transferred and Lawrence finished up the contract and moved on. After the project’s end date, Lawrence heard that the project was never delivered. “The damage to the boondoggled project and the squandering of public money makes my heart ache to this day,” he said. “I guess I could never accept that people would really be willing to do that.” (Source: Tech Republic)

Even, I had seen this type of problems in my life with few Organizations. The top gives the highest level of resistance towards change, despite of knowing "Change is Good". I would expect my readers of this blog should comment on this aspect and shed some light from their personal experience.


Anonymous said...


Read your blog...interesting.

Cynics say that in most cases of change management, the first step needs to be "change the management". May be this is what was needed in the case you described.

I have a slightly different take on the issue. The moment "change" start to appear as "imposed", resistance is inevitable. The first step is to take the key stakeholders into confidence. There needs to be a mature, open discussion on the need for change, the problem, possible solutions, risks & benefits involved, ... How does one expect to bring about any change in an organization is the "top management" itself is opposed to it? (In most cases it is the top management that would set the agenda for the change).

Without meaning to offend anyone, I have also come to take a lot of consultant-speak with a fair pinch of salt. In a lot of cases, they have pre-conceived solutions that get retro-fitted a company's situation. Consultants' role is to bring the "external" view to an organization that may, over a period of time, become too inward focussed. The solution needs to be "evolved" using these inputs and the company's own peculiar situation. Once the solution is found, finalized and agreed, the consultant's role ends! It is disastrous to have consultants DRIVING change - that is the role of top management.


Anonymous said...

In my opinion.
Construct models. Give them statistics. Percentages.


My personal point of view and way of life:
Never "argue" with someone, provide them so many facts, figures and the likes, so that at the end of the day, the facts will do the arguing for you... While you just keep calm.

Thats the way I tackle most situations, and 99% of time it works. Maybe you could find a way to implement this both on social and business level, seeing as social aspects play a pivotal role in communications, it could help you...

Anonymous said...

apparently, I am an organizational communication student... This type of climate where top management is trying to defend itself from changes is more likely to create worse relationships with the people below... It's more of a classical approach in my opinion..

The main suggestion is for the management to hire external agents and try to get their networks fixed.

Anonymous said...

Change" is not necessarily "good" … for everybody; many times “change” is beneficial to just a fraction of people from an organization and induces a high level of negative stress to many other people from the same organization, though temporarily. Also a major change to come may be presented differently to the audience than the actual motivation of implementing a change (the hidden agenda never being disclosed).

After 2 experiences with major (non-voluntary) change in my professional life ie. 2 merger periods within the company I used to work for, as well as many minor imposed and non-imposed changes I have thought a lot of this aspect of modern life.
First I am a little bit pleased to read that top management does show (sometimes) resistance to change. Major planned changes in processes, procedures or organizational structure have many faces and induces many reflection marks. What does “change” may/will cause : 1) tearing people away from their comfort zone; 2) the risk of a negative return of investment during a significant (transitional) period, without having a guarantee that the transitional period will be bridged successfully; 3) a high degree of increased workload for many persons during the transitional period without compensation; 4) the risk of being part of the change process (helping to implement), and once implemented, being excluded from the organization as you does not fit in the new situation, being not aware of the “hidden agenda” of course; 5) the risk that the “change” does not improve the organization but even the opposite; 6) The risk that many internal experts are not consulted during the change-planning period; 7) the risk of a chain reaction of none foreseen and uncontrolled negative events.

To summarize : the risk of loosing rather than winning, at a personal and/or at an organizational level, may be the cause that even the top of an organization is reluctant to “change”. And last but not least “change” for the sake of “change” is certainly not good. I add this reflection because I saw/heard that “implementing changes” are often part of the job of new managers just to justify their position in an organization. This last reflection is not directly related to what I experienced in my personal professional life, but what I saw in many organizations around me.

Anonymous said...


as you know resistance to change is everywhere. It is a predominant behavior of people. Preserving one's integrity and ensuring personal achievement are major concerns, both concious and unconcious. If you ignore this, frustration quickly comes.

I experienced a bad situation where I was hired to assist and support a top manager in a company. But the guy didn't want that and never delegated. So the job quickly became of no use. It would have been much easier for me had I understood this from the first day...

My piece of advice to consultants who would like to live in an easy world: carefully analyze what your customer is asking for, and provide it. No less, no more. A customer will accept the changes he has in mind, no so much those you have in mind.

At this stage, it is tempting to believe that you are able to tell places where he is wrong and you can provide better solutions: this might be where you start being wrong and exhibit your own resistance to change. The right thing is to really adhere to the customer's needs. Be smart in understanding these.

Change then occurs without any effort.

- Yves

Ray said...

In my days of large commercial power plant construction and maintenance projects I encountered similar resistence to changes in process, tooling ,etc.

In that business there are millions and millions of dollars at stake as well.

The approach I took in similar situations was "when in Rome, Do as the Romans do".
If Mr. Mafia was playing Godfather to "the family" I would confront him in front of god and everyone with specific data outlining what needs improvement and how to implement the improvements.

I would document the hell out of everything and enlist the aid od other "families" within the organization. There are always people who are afraid, but then there are people who are afraid AND mad.

It is a dog eat dog world in many environments and you have to be willing to get dirty and get bloody sometimes.

Having PhDs on the team just means they have more to lose and are easier to intimidate.

Give them the costs of staying with the Godfather versus turning state's evidence.

Anonymous said...

My advice is to understand what makes top managemen tick.Its often $$$$

Whenever you identify the change to a financial saving, improved profit margins or increased sales turnover its surprising how quickly management implement the change.

A couple of times I've asked management if I could borrow a twenty and suggested they burn it as they are doing that every hour or minute by not implementing the change.
PS: I wouldn't suggest doing this unless you are comfortable with the management reaction.

Anonymous said...

When the business drivers to enterprise’s change are not well understood, are unconvincingly communicated for the Senior Management and their impact over the future viability of the enterprise are by the way, dismissed, minimized or underestimated real risks of a enterprise-wide disaster may arise, and what once was a carefully designed Change Management proposal may become in a typical episode of Management by Crisis.

The enterprise culture, particularly from those companies that are very conservative and traditionalists in their strategic approach; a steady corporate history plenty of achievements and success and a risk-averse attitude are common factors to reinforce a false attitude of overconfidence in the Executive Management that yields to the failure of any transformational project with potential of having changed positively and effectively the corporate culture.

In what has been my professional experience so far I have observed that many companies that rely heavily on the achievement of operational excellence usually struggle when enterprise and market drivers require from Executive Management the systematic application of a strategic mindset mainly focused in competitive intelligence, risk management, effective Change Management and promotion of an enterprise culture based in effective innovation.

Any transformational project of an enterprise-wide scope can not be successful developed when the rational motivations to change are superficially comprehended by Executive Management, which fails in the role of communicating convincingly, not by imposition the issues related with business reasons, financial analysis, market drivers and operational vectors that justify such medullar changes in the enterprise.

I hope this helps you.

Anonymous said...

Change typically means getting people to do things differently. People usually don't change their behaviour quickly - we become more resistant to change as we get older. Most of us like to have some routine in our lives, and in any case it's hard to learn something new when we're not motivated or incentivised in some way to internalise new skills and techniques.

When the benefits of the change are clearly defined, then it can be easier influence behaviour. So changing an organisation might involve making sure the specific benefits of the change are clearly defined for each group of stakeholders, and the benefits are communicated appropriately in each case.

In some situations it might be possible to implement schemes that recognise positive behviour, and reward individuals and teams that demonstrate they are changing.

In some cases the behavioural change required can be too big an ask.... and it might be more economically viable to completely avoid tackling changes in behaviour and instead pursue a what could be considered more drastic courses of action such as changing the people.... the products.... or the market... etc. It really all depends on the context.

Anonymous said...

I read your blog and see many good points raised. It is often that the those with the most at stake will resist change, as in those at the top. Worth mentioning is that although we all know that change can be good, it is still quite uncomfortable. Although we may agree on a professional level that change is good, human nature is to resist, regardless of your political or corporate level. I believe for these reasons once you have the buy in from the top with physical evidence for all to see, the rest of the road is to change is smoother than those who provide merely lip service.


Anonymous said...

I think someone already said it in the earlier answers, Change is not always good, as that would
mean that management that is initiating and enforcing that change is always making the right decisions.
This of course is not true, and sometimes decisions are being made for completely different reasons
than can be rationalized by the functional experts in the area. Even to a point where it is a 180° turn on what the path forward should be in their view.

Where (most) people are reluctant to accept changes that they were not participating for in the conception stage, if they cannot "explain" it to themselves that is makes sense, they will never agree to it and a different approach should be expected from management in those cases, more towards enforcement.

If on the other hand, and that was your actual question I think, topmanagement itself is much against the
imminent change, even fighting it, then it might be a different ballgame all together.

If even topmanagement is against change, this can be attributed to a number of causes.

1. Even topmanagement has a higher reporting line sometimes, so topmanagement from one location
or region might get something enforced on them by their Board of management, or in case of publicly
owned companies, shareholders might force them into an undesired direction.

2. Market (r)evolutions might force a company to change the way it operates, or to step up the pace
of an already initiated change process. Also statutory or legal rulings can be the trigger of these changes
(keep in mind what changes SOX brought about, and I know only very few companies that did embrace
those changes or the reason for that at the time)

3. Any change is potentially a power shift, so if topmanagement is not the initiator of the change process
they might be concerned about this. For instance, I've seen it happen that implementing an international
ERP system, making operations and results more comparable, sometimes takes away the room for
explaining differences in results and margins etc. Not seldom is the implementation of a big ERP system
the trigger for an organizational change as well, lifting local decision power to regional, or regional to

I can go on, but I think the above kind of highlights it.


Cor Gabriƫls

Anonymous said...

could not reach your blog with the link provided. However, I felt compelled to respond to this topic. I am from NY. Significant only in that it is fairly well known and accepted that change doesn't happen here unless it is immediately crucial. I migrated here from the west coast where automated banks pump out digital music as you transact your business on a terminal. The educated consumer buys everything from food to pharmaceuticals from online vendors and engineers sit at their favorite Tandoori chain restaurants planning the future of interactive computing (I particularly like the Lassi drinks). While the rest of the country stumbles over IPBX solutions and POS solutions.

After all... If it ain't broke...

Business Objects had an event recently where it was divulged that a significant part of senior executive staff have concerns about data quality where as the C-level were less interested in addressing the issue. We can peg this indifference to the Wall street analysts that jumped ship in mid stream because of an artificial slump in the technology markets after the dot com bust in the late 90's. Little did they know that Enron and friends would open a can of worms that would be punctuated by a terrorist attack causing a spike in the 'new tech market'. We read about ridiculous investment monies spent prior to 2003 in dark fibre when no one knew what it was or how to monetize it unless you consider a few telecom engineers and a handful of DOD folks. And as thousands of jobs evaporate in the white foam of the receding tides of restructures, the VC wheels keep churning out new projects.

My opinion is that the resistance we experience today is less about not wanting the next best thing and more about finding something that won't go extinct in the next 5 years... Or even 2. Something that makes sense for my business. Something I can use.

Anonymous said...

I have read your blog. It was a good reading. Resistance should always be expected as it is part of change and managing resistance is part of the change management. Resistance is not necessarily a bad thing.

'Change is Good', to my opinion and experience, is based on several points. Some of them are as follows:

1. Does the change have a positive business impact and is this a clear or a blurry vision?

2. Make sure everyone who is impacted by the change come to believe in the change in due course (this will depend on the strength of a true leader, no offence, but a regular certificated Operations Manager usually fails to achieve this objective and end up forcing the change with lot of negative impact on the organization)

3. Make sure sequence of change is appropriately designed, therefore, all the necessary steps are covered with minimal flaw. It is possible to achieve through brainstorming constituting representatives from all impacted parties. Often some over-confident Managers fail to achieve this by deciding whom they think would have enough knowledge to participate and often, therefore, they miss the right constituent. That's where they tend to lack leadership and their implementation of change start with flaws and ends up in chaos.

I would prefer to take these 3 points as foundation. Once passed we can proceed with all operational theories with change management and the success will be ours. Employee satisfaction with the change is nothing but a result of properly managed change by a true leader.


Anonymous said...

That's inertia ! my friend. Why humans, every object resists change.



Anonymous said...

Yes very true, whenever any kind of big change is required in organization, heavy resistance came from top management.

Any change brings new approach of addressing dynamic context. This new approach requires some change in R & R, organization design policy and paradigm. Here comes the discomfort for the top management, even though they are top decision makers still they are employees of the organization. They thinks nothing different from employees, they are scared of creating a state of unrest, which may leads to cutting their power, comfort zone by change in organization structure.

In true sense, due to employee kind of mindset majority of top management lacks sense of ownership to manage the magnitude of change. In this kind of scenario role of owner of the organization is very important to over ruled and impose changes with the concurrence from middle management.

Anonymous said...

Resistance to Change does not apply for consultants alone. It also applies to the Management of companies. By Management, I am not restricting myself to the Top Management, since it is applicable to all levels in a company.

We need to understand why do people resist. The basic reason why people resist change is the fear of loosing power in the organisation. If as a consultant or as a key person in charge of change, one should be able to understand the fear or in this case, "why is the person resisting change" and alleviate that fear. If this is acheived, then the organisation is on the right path of improvement.

Consultants make the mistake of not making an effort of understanding the fear. They are of the opinion that they should deliver only for what they are getting paid and generally do not take the extra effort of "walking the extra mile".

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