Resistance is the friction that gives traction to transformation

Last week I was reading the results of a survey that one of the major consultancies had completed with CEOs of organisations that had undertaken transformation. The survey showed that the CEOs recorded “Employee resistance to change” as being the major reason for the failure of transformation programmes!

My initial reaction was a strong one – blaming employee resistance for the failure of transformation is like blaming a car for not running when the petrol tank is empty. There is no point in complaining – accept it and deal with it.

On reflection my reaction has validity but it fails to move the debate forward. Having thought in more detail it seems to me that the resistance of employees can be like friction – it is friction that allows us to move forward. The resistance of employees can be harnessed to make progress in transformation.

Employee resistance is a sign that employees care – obviously about themselves but given the opportunity most will care about the organisation they work for. Should we not be harnessing the resistance of employees to help us to test our proposals and then draw them to committing themselves to the programme?

Four recommended actions for harnessing employee resistance to produce more effective transformation:

  1. Declare the Need for Change. Without a compelling Need for Change employees will not understand why transformation is needed and will see the proposals as being change for change’s sake.
  2. Communicate the transformation vision. Allow employees to understand and give feedback on the vision for change. This will help them to buy in to the proposed future as their concerns are heard and acted on.
  3. Create involvement. Involving staff in a structured way in the change process gives them an opportunity to express their concerns and thereby to improve the quality of the proposals and the implementation.
  4. Work through teams. We all manage our reactions to change by working with other people. Wise organisations create opportunities for people to work together to move the change programme forward.

It is important for leaders to start programmes as they mean to go on. If employee resistance is to be harnessed and turned round, it is important that leaders resist the temptation to jump in too quickly. They should take time to plan the programme considering how to deliver an effective approach based around employee involvement.

Andrew Kearns
Hartswood Management Ltd
Delivering real transformation

For advice on structuring your transformation or change programme please email

For further insights please visit –

Suggestions for further actions:

  1. Read John Kotter’s book Leading Change.
  2. Read Changing Spots – a systems approach to change management for details on leading change programmes and employee involvement (see
  3. Reflect on how you expect resistance to manifest itself in your organisation and how your leadership team could take the concerns seriously and use them to deliver more effective change.

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