People Do Not Resist Change…They Resist What It Represents

I frequently coach leaders to successfully lead change. Sometimes I begin a session by inviting leaders to reflect on the range of changes occurring in their own lives. Participants are frequently shocked when they see the collective volume of change dealt with. They notice the wide range of personal changes; these range from ageing parents, death, illness, selling or buying a house, studying, changing role or organisation, the birth of a child, a partner undergoing change and children experiencing a transition of one kind or another. On top of this, the leaders overlay an array of changes occurring within their work environment. These include organisational restructures, implementation of new strategies, new projects, programs of work like SAP, new vendors, changes in marketplace dynamics, customer driven changes, legislative changes, changes led by new leadership teams….the list goes on and on.

It is not a secret that a huge percentage of change initiatives fail despite the huge funds allocated to them. Generally speaking, these change projects mostly fail because emotional elements have not been attended to.

At a recent change leadership workshop I asked participants to share what was and what was not working well about their individual change projects. In 100% per cent of cases the elements that were cited as working well were all to do with the inherent value of the project itself. Participants spoke about such matters as the change leading to better outcome and the project enabling the company to enhance performance in some shape or form. When participants spoke about the challenges associated with their change projects, they mentioned aspects such as the following:

“People are resisting and feel we are overstepping the mark”

“I don’t understand the big picture”

“Stakeholders won’t give me the information I need on time”

“How do I get the vendors to provide better performance”?

“How do I manage expectations internally”?

“How do I deal with resistance, negativity and scepticism”?

While change management generally focuses upon shifting to the new destination, little attention is usually given to transition management or convincing people to leave home. Technical conversations are somewhat easier to engage in than the emotional ones. However, it is the conversations that address emotional elements that either enable the change to be successful or otherwise.

As we explored William Bridges change curve within the workshop, leaders were able to visibly see that people do not in fact resist change, they resist what the change represents for them. The two are very different. Even a very positive organisational change may represent a subjective personal experience of loss of identity, control, meaning, hope, purpose or value. It is not surprising then that in these circumstances people will resist the change despite its rational merit. The task is to lead stakeholders through the phases of transition management, painful as these may be a times. This does not mean that leaders do not progress change within their organisation, it means leaders need to be able to:

Facilitate Authentic Conversations

Leaders need to be able to facilitate authentic conversations that enable their stakeholders to share their personal experience of the change.

Handle Emotions

Leaders need to be able to handle their own emotions when supporting others through change. They need to manage their frustration when others don’t show the same enthusiasm and they need to manage their excitement when others are moving through the grief associated with the change.

Listen and Empathize

Leaders need to be able to listen and empathize with others’ experience as they psychologically manage themselves through the change.

Helpfully Frame the Change

Leaders need to be able to frame the change helpfully, both acknowledging what will change but also what will not. They also need to be able to sell the why of the change before they can successfully sell the vision of the future.

Build on the Past. Don’t Crush It

Leaders need to be able to honour the past as they move towards the future and show others how the change builds on rather than crushes the past.

The prize is worth the effort; implementing the change successfully and sustainably is surely worthy of personal investment.


  1. How well do your leaders understand that their change agenda is but one amongst many competing for stakeholder attention?
  2. How equipped are your leaders to not only lead the technical aspects of change but also the much bigger psychological elements that come into play?
  3. When you consider the track record of change initiatives within your business, what would you say has been the biggest keys to success? What has been the biggest inhibitors of success?

Organisations, or consultants, interested in licensing my highly successful and globally tested leadership coaching programs should email me directly at or call me on +61414502108 The leadership coaching programs teach leaders how to leverage a coaching orientation in order to positively influence organisational purpose, performance, engagement and impact.

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