Dealing with resistance to change


The two word question that can open minds to the need for change.

We were called in to lead a session to help an organization determine its next strategic move. Shortly into the process, we hit a roadblock. There was clearly a lot of resistance to change.

So I asked this question. “Since the time this institution was founded fifty+ years ago, what has changed? What’s different today than it was back in the 1950’s?”

Things got quiet. Very quiet.

Then someone said, “Well, the town has changed. A lot.”

Someone else said, “The whole county has changed.” A third person said, “Customers in general have changed. They expect more.”

“And they know more – including what they can find on the internet,” a young woman said.

Another lady added, “There was no internet, no email, and no voicemail back when we started.”

“And there was a lot less competition, too. Nowadays we have a competitors all over.”

And so it went. The group began to focus on all the changes around them that have been taking place continuously – which I’ve come to believe is frequently the first step we all need to come to before recognizing the need to rethink and possibly change the ways we do business.

Over the course of the session, the group eventually talked themselves into why their institution had to change.

And most important – they chose to change – a far better result than if the CEO or anyone else simply told them that things had to change.

Here are some good questions to ask your leaders, managers, and other team members at your next session or retreat:

  • What’s changed in our business since it was started in ______? What’s changed in the past five or ten years?

  • Which of these changes ended up being for the better – and resulted in better outcomes or value for (customers, clients, patients, and so on) – and for us as a company?
  • What’s different now in our marketplace – or the communities in which we do business? Are these good changes or bad changes?
  • How have our competitors changed – and their products and services? What are they offering people now that wasn’t even thought of years ago? What will happen if we don't change to keep up?
  • How have customers themselves changed in recent years? How have their lives changed? What do they want today that they didn’t want ten years ago? Are these changes good for us or bad for us? Why? What's the difference?

So what can you accomplish with this exercise?

The first objective is to help people see change as ongoing, not just something they are being asked to go along with today.

The second objective is to help them distinguish between good change (which makes you sharper, stronger, and more competitive) and bad change (which simply creates burdens and problems).


Encouraging change isn’t always easy – and ordering change hasn’t worked well for most organizations.

Perhaps a good strategy for your organization is to begin with what you see changing around you – and then, as a deliberate second step, involve people in finding ways to help your organization adapt to those changes successfully.

Carl Francis

Re-posted from our archives