Resistance Management

The Tool and Why It’s Valuable

Resistance to change is natural and is often cited as the single reason that improvement efforts are unsuccessful. Actions to surface and address resistance are a critical component of any change management effort. Because of normal resistance to change, early investments in change management are particularly effective during Lean projects. Piecemeal changes without the broad commitment to active, real-time support by both leaders and front-line employees are likely to result in only limited benefits. One key tool to overcome resistance is an actively managed resistance plan. Active updates on resistant stakeholders help ensure Lean solutions are sustainable and accepted.

How to Apply It

  1. Listen for individuals who have a lack of awareness about the change.
  2. Categorize opposition (e.g., to new systems or processes).
  3. Draft a resistance management plan to confirm the root cause of the resistance and prescribe actions.
    Resistance management plans usually have 5 key elements:
    1. Do change management right the first time — set-up your initiative for success
    2. Expect and plan for resistance — don’t be surprised
    3. Address it formally — it won’t go away without actions
    4. Identify the root causes — don’t just react to symptoms
    5. Engage the "right" resistance managers — enlist support to combat resistance
  4. Execute the plan and measure the impact of your actions on the attitudes of those most affected by the change.
Pearls and Pitfalls
  • Failure to manage resistance result in project failure.
  • Resistance is often the expression of an unmet need. Once you throughout the project lifecycle can understand the need, you can meet it.
  • Anticipate it and make a plan to respond to it.
  • Expect it: Do not be surprised by resistance.

resistance management graph

The graph at the right is a behavioral theory that describes the people’s predisposition to change. Resistance planning helps you meet the needs of each group.

Rogers Diffusion of Innovations

Plan Dimension


Do change management right the first time—set-up your initiative for success

  • Actively make a compelling case for change; help people get in touch with their teams’ “WIIFMs” (what’s in it for me?)
  • Communicate the “why” before the how
  • Ensure that you’re providing people enough information and training to feel comfortable with the future

Expect and plan for resistance— don’t be surprised

  • Engage people to predict what resistance you'll receive and build these messages
  • Establish escalating hierarchy to manage resistance
    For example:
    1. Listen and understand objections
    2. Focus on the "what" and let go of the "how"
    3. Remove barriers
    4. Provide simple, clear choices and consequences
    5. Create hope without promises
    6. Show the benefits in a real and tangible way
    7. Make a personal appeal

Address it formally—it won’t go away without actions

  • Engage in “open management-style” communications on an on-going basis, citing specific reasons for resistance (without noting the source) and offer alternatives.

Identify the root causes— don’t just react to symptoms

  • Examine systems and structures (Are incentives aligned? Do people have sufficient training to adopt the new way? Are old metrics binding us to the “old way”?)

Engage the "right" resistance managers— Enlist support to combat resistance

  • Map key relationships and leverage these to address resistance with key players or groups
  • Consider creating a team to help monitor resistance and help you respond; cross-functional and cross-style members on the team help you engage different sources of resistance
  • Understand the root cause of the issue
    • Is it lack of clarity?
    • Is it lack of desire?
    • Are incentives misaligned?
  • Emphasize the benefits of change (WIIFM?).
    If necessary...
    • Communicate the consequences for not supporting the change
    • Implement the consequences for not supporting the change