Category Archives: Leadership and Management

Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 2.56.25 PM

What is Resistance to Change?

Last week I saw an interesting tweet about “resistance to change”

Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 2.59.11 PM


Since “resistance to change” is one of my favourite topics, I had to chime in! Of course that prompted a whole bunch of responses:

Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 2.56.12 PM

Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 2.56.25 PM

Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 2.59.37 PM

So what is resistance to change? There are enough change studies out there that cite resistance to change as the reason for why change initiatives fail.

The last four Version One State of Agile Development surveys cited ‘general resistance to change‘ as the #2 reason for why organizations fail to further adopt Agile. It was second only to “inability to change the corporate culture

Let’s start with how HR defines resistance to change:

Resistance to change appears in action such as verbal criticism, nitpicking details, failure to adopt, snide comments, sarcastic remarks, missed meetings, failed commitments, interminable arguments, lack of support verbally, and outright sabotage.

Resistance to change can intensify if employees feel that they have been involved in a series of changes that have had insufficient support to gain the anticipated results.

The problem I have with this definition is that it’s from the perspective of the person who is responsible for implementing the change. Suppose you, the change agent, were forced to use a change process you don’t believe in. How would you react? Would you be resistant?

In my view, change resistance is a symptom of a bigger problem. Namely, change agents are given a budget and a schedule to implement a change that management wants…regardless of whether or not it’s the right change to implement.

I don’t believe change resistance is a thing. I believe there is only lack of clarity and vision when a change is forced on people in an organization. Instead of focusing on how to involve people affected by the change into the design of the change, our attention focuses on those pesky resisters and how we can make them stop resisting.

Remember the symptoms of resistance from the article I mentioned earlier?

verbal criticism, nitpicking details, failure to adopt, snide comments, sarcastic remarks, missed meetings, failed commitments, interminable arguments, lack of support verbally, and outright sabotage

This is not change resistance. There are 3 things happening here:

  1. There is a lack of shared understanding about why this change is important: There is no framework or method that will solve this problem. Time and conversations are the only way to create this shared understanding. What’s that? You schedule these meetings and nobody shows up? That’s a good segue to #2.
  2. This isn’t the right change or the right time to implement it: The root cause of this problem is when the change team plans the change in isolation and then tries to unleash it on people. If people aren’t showing up for meetings or are making sarcastic comments, it’s the wrong change. Period.
  3. The people who live with the consequences of the change weren’t involved in the design of the change: I suppose you could throw outright sabotage into this bucket, although I’ve never seen someone deliberately try to sabotage a change. It usually stems from a lack of understanding or where the person who’s ‘being changed’ has a deeply held belief that this change is a bad idea.

In my view, change resistance is nothing more than a catch-all excuse for change agents to use when they have no idea why the change didn’t work. All they know is ‘those people‘ wouldn’t do what I (or the organization) wanted them to do, therefore they resisted change.

So after this long tweet-thread, I side with Mark and Karen. It’s the responsibility of the change agent to do something differently, and that’s not an easy thing to do.

Words matter. Labelling people as ‘resisters’ isn’t helpful and it’s not going to help push our industry forward, especially given how fast things change today. Once we can get past this ridiculous label, we’ll be able to focus on what matters. Meaningful change.


But that's not Scrum!!!

Sorry, I broke Your Company

One day the journeyman went to the village to see how the people were progressing on their new housing project. He was astonished to see that everyone was using hammers to pound nails, stir the cement and perform other tasks.

He was astonished, and quickly took to the mountains where he confronted his master.

“Master, why oh why did you teach these people to stir cement with a hammer?” he pleaded.

“My young journeyman, when I lived in the village, the people had no shelter. They had wood, but no means to construct a shelter. I showed them how to use a hammer and nails to make a basic shelter.  Now they have evolved and need to learn new methods.”

I heard this story at an Agile conference a number of years ago so I can’t remember exactly how it went.

And so the story goes, “you damn consultants, you broke my company!” or “what?!?!? why did those consultants do that?!?!

When it comes to implementing Agile, the first consultant or company is most likely to become the sacrificial goat. They’ll work hard under a tight deadline because they sold a fixed price, fixed scope, spray-on-transformation, and they’ll do some of the right things but it takes the organization a while to internalize the change.  At some point the contract is up, or the consultant/company is fired and then the clean-up crew comes in.

I’ve been part of the clean-up crew before. It’s a lot easier! Sometimes.

I’ve also been the sacrificial goat sometimes. And it used to suck.

That’s right, it used to suck.

Now I’ve learned coaching is about helping people find the answer to their own problems and remaining detached from the outcome. When I (and my fellow Leanintuiters) work with people I create a coaching agreement. Sometimes clients ask to be told what to do (then they say “shut up consultant! YOU don’t know what it’s like here!!!!” ) but most of the time they want guidance, coaching and feedback so they can figure it out themselves.

Today at the Toronto Agile & Software conference I caught up with a lot of people I’ve worked with over the years and a theme emerged. Many of them said they missed me, and a few had stories about something I helped them with and they just wanted to say thanks.

Others who I didn’t work with but had Skype calls with or gave advice (WHEN THEY ASKED ME TO!) said the same. Thanks.

Perhaps the best feedback came a couple of years ago at an Agile open space where someone told me a year before that, I inspired them to bring Agile into education.

I. Was. Floored.

So to the people in organizations I’ve worked with over the years who’ve blamed me for breaking their company, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I tried to help you, and failed. From your perspective.

It used to bother me when I’d hear things like “it’s the coaches fault our project failed…he wouldn’t let me use my laptop at the retrospective“…and yes, that’s a true story. But now, it doesn’t. Some people are ready for help, some are not. I prefer to focus my energy on those who want to learn how to improve how they work.

And I want to focus my energy on helping people love what they do. Thanks Olaf for an inspiration keynote today. That, and connecting with old friends re-affirmed why I do what I do.


Organizational Revolt

Many years ago a friend told me about an experience he had facilitating the ball point game for a team.   For some reason he   decided to start tossing the balls at the team instead of having them start the game.  Obviously the team wasn’t ready….they….ahem, dropped the balls if you will…and then he told me something amazing happened.

The Scrum Master stood up, held his hands up, stood between the facilitator and the team and yelled STOP!

Clearly the Scrum Master wasn’t going to put up with this nonsense.

So why do so many teams put up with this nonsense at their workplace?

Today I spoke with a friend who said he felt he had just been threatened to get a project out the door by X date or “it’s his ass”.  This in an environment where project priorities have changed daily over the last couple of months, where people have been moved between projects multiple times and in some cases, a person may be the only person working on a multi-month project.  By himself.  Half the time.  Perhaps he was exaggerating about the “it’s your ass” part, but I’ll take him at his word.  Perception is often reality.

A couple of weeks ago it was anti-bullying week in Toronto.  My kids’ school had an anti-bullying rally and of course, it’s all the rage nowadays.  We have to stop kids from bullying!  My 8 year recently stood up against a couple of 12 year olds at the park because they were acting like jerks and they threatened to blow up his house.   We found out who the kids were and went to their school and reported them to the principal who dealt with the situation.

Bullying is part of life and finely engrained in our society and it isn’t going to stop in our organizations until people like our resident Scrum Master I mentioned earlier react the same way on a real project as he did on that simulation.