Why stakeholders resist change

The only constant is change. It’s a moniker we’ve learned to live by in today’s fast-paced working environment. Platforms, people, processes, products – they all change. Even business itself is changing, with disrupting technologies challenging the status quo.

But how do we facilitate change within our environment and within our group of peers? When acting to realize change, we often encounter resistance. And to deal with resistance, we first have to know its root cause.

Below you will find some excerpts from Donald Kirkpatrick’s book How To Manage Change Effectively: Approaches, Methods, and Case Examples that classify key characteristics of situations in which people will either resist or embrace change. And while the book, published in 2001 cannot be considered part of recent literature, many of its points still remain valid today.

Situations which foster resistance to change

  • The affected stakeholders sense a loss of security, pride, satisfaction, freedom, responsibility, authority, working conditions or status
  • The change is perceived as creating more issues than benefits
  • The extra effort required to realize the change is not being rewarded or recognized
  • The initiator of the change is lacking the necessary respect within the organization
  • The change initiative or its implications on stakeholders are being misunderstood
  • The change is misdirected, and the status quo or alternatives to change are perceived as superior
  • There is a perception that the change does not make sense for the organization to pursue
  • The key stakeholders might have a low tolerance for change by default
  • The change violates working principles of the organizations or commitments made in the past
  • Key stakeholders are excluded from participating in the change initiative
  • Changes are viewed as criticism on the previous way of working
  • The change is initiated at an unsuitable time, at which other issues require priority

Situations facilitating embracing change

  • Stakeholders perceive the change as being in their interest, in terms of security, money, authority, status or prestige, responsibility, working conditions or achievement
  • The change provides new challenges and alleviates boredom or staleness of the environment
  • Stakeholders can exploit plenty of opportunities to influence the change initiative
  • The change is rolled out at a favourable moment within the organization’s timeline
  • The initiator of the change is known and respected within the organization
  • Stakeholders like the approach of the change and the way it’s implemented

Practical application

When pursuing change related activities, you can use these classifications to identify what barriers to change your project might encounter from key stakeholders. Or you could use the list to identify why your stakeholders are actually supporting your project, and better cater to their needs.

Do you think the points made by Donald Kirkpatrick hold true today? Have you experienced such issues yourself, or do you know of some other situations that foster resistance to or appetite for change?