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Mobilizing commitment around change

Human Capital
On how to create influence strategies that allow to identify and reduce resistance to change while increasing the commitment of those that will be affected by the change
Personal and organizational changes imply resistance in those that will be affected by the change In fact; resistance to change is a reliable indicator that we might be on target with the change we are aiming to launch. During 2nd world war British pilots knew they were on target when they got flack back.


This is due to the fact that any change, even minimal, implies movement outside the comfort zone and any human being will tend to go back to the comfort zone to avoid stress due to the perception of danger and lost (status, habits, competencies, recognition, power). The good news is that the more you practice change and getting out of your comfort zone the better you get at going through change. And we all know that change is the only thing that “lasts” in life.


MI experience as consultant, coach and facilitator of change processes has allowed me to see that when it comes to launching change in organizations or teams, there are 3 main types of resistance:

  • Technical resistance: the weight of habits and inertia, the lack or difficulty to develop new competencies, the pressure for cost reduction, the lack of means (human, technical or financial).
  • Cultural resistance: The selective perception that comes with cultural rules, the thinking that status quo is always better than trying new ways, the fear to move on or try something new.
  • Political resistance: The fear to loose power, influence, job, resources, visibility that creates a defensive attitude towards any threat to current reality.
And it is useful to know that resistance to change has a normal distribution (Gauss curve) amongst those that will be affected by the change.
  • 10% are the Innovators, the change agents, those individuals that are ready to lead the change and assume their role as ambassadors since the beginning of the change initiative.
  • The next 40% is made up of early followers: those that need to understand the benefits and risks that the change implies before they support it. Frequently we can find the future sponsors of the change initiative in this group; they have power over the resources and might allow pilot experiences in the areas under their responsibility.
  • Then there is another 40% of people that are the late adopters (that I call St. Thomas) They not only need information but also proof and results that show that the change can work and has brought benefits to other areas in the organization, they need to touch in order to believe.
  • The last 10% in the normal distribution is made up of resistors that will not support the change initiative even if they receive information or proof and results. There are multiple reasons for this (the fear to loose is one of them).

The key to success in managing a change initiative is in building a critical mass of supporters, an ally’s coalition and with this purpose in mind, it is advisable to:


  1. Gain the support of 90% of people in the Gauss curve through the appointment of change agents or ambassador that are to be part of the change initiative Project team.
  2. Develop and distribute the information required to gain the support of potential sponsors of the initiative that will allow implementing pilot experiences in their areas of responsibility.
  3. Plan for, and get early successes and results to show to the late adopters.
  4. Resistors then, would most likely only have the choice to support and initiative that is already backed up by 90% of critical mass.
In order to develop an influence strategy we can use a tool that is based on the popular stakeholder analysis in which we first identify the individuals and groups whose support is key to the success of the change initiative. Then we proceed to assess the degree in which those individuals or groups already support the change (strongly against, moderately against, neutral, moderately supportive, strongly supportive) and compare their current positioning with the degree of support that we would need from them in order to succeed in implementing change. The gap between their current level of support and the support that we do need from them is due to the sources of resistance at play (technical, cultural or political). Therefore we would need to identify the sources of resistance for each stakeholder and then classify them by type in order to define the most adequate influence strategy so that, if a technical resistance is at work for a given stakeholder, training & development of new competencies and making the tools and equipment needed to accomplish new tasks available would be effective influence strategies. In the other hand a training session will have no impact if the type of resistance we are facing is political (in which case the most effective influence strategy would be to plan for other key stakeholders, already supportive and that we would have mobilized upfront, to influence those that fear loosing power, recognition…)


The final important advice in this whole process is to verify that none of the potential sponsors of the change initiative are positioned in the resistors group, in which case it would be advisable to question the opportunity and timing of the change initiative that we want to launch.


In a coming article I would provide examples of resistance to change and options for effective influence strategies.


Marta Santos Romero

15 rue du terras

13002 Marseille


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