May 2013

Overcoming Resistance to Change

By Jay W. Vogt

Imagine your boss has given you an important assignment to bring about a needed change in your organization. It sounds good. But people throughout your organization will resist this change. Not so good. How can you overcome this resistance?

A Formula for Change
Here’s the short answer to this complex question:

D + V + F > R

In this formula, R is Resistance to change. A combination of D (Dissatisfaction), V (Vision), and F (Feasibility) trumps R. This formula is the work of Richard Beckhardt who, like other consultants, had no authority to mandate change, but only the ability to influence others to embrace it. Let’s examine each element.

  • R, Resistance to Change

    Resisting change is often seen as a negative posture. Yet resistance to the wrong kind of change can save an organization, so its potential value must not be overlooked. The change maker must first meet people where they are, and everybody must understand and empathize with each other’s position.

    Picture those who embrace change and those who resist change as two groups who access different sets of experience and information. The challenge for those who embrace change is to lead on an educational journey that helps see the world in new ways. Change resisters must be exposed to transformative people, information, and experiences. From this perspective, the change maker’s task is one of education, not of persuasion or exercise of power.

  • D, Dissatisfaction with the Status Quo

    Many resist change because they think the current condition is viable. The change maker must motivate for change. A powerful source of motivation is dissatisfaction with the status quo or with an undesirable future. Those who see what isn’t working have to document and share that painful reality in ways others can grasp. This may require introducing service providers to the wrath of their customers, giving workers candid feedback on performance problems, and showing organizations how their competitors are leaving them behind. This knowledge produces pain and discomfort. Yet pain can be a powerful motivator to act differently.

  • V, Vision of Something Better

    A second powerful source of motivation is a vision of the good that comes from change. This happens naturally when people are engaged in creating a shared vision of what they want. Typically, it involves a collaborative exercise of envisioning a preferred future.

    People also get excited about change when they see how it benefits others in organizations similar to their own. It requires exposure to the work of leaders who embrace best practices because these leaders are external voices for change. Typically, the exposure is gained through field trips, best practice studies and competitor analyses.

  • F, Feasibility of Change

    The third powerful source of motivation to change is belief in the idea that change is attainable. Even those who know that the current situation is untenable and can imagine a better future often remain paralyzed if they don’t know how to move forward.

    These people need to be inspired by those who have embraced change successfully in similar settings, supported to find ways around obstacles, and coached in the strategies of implementing change. Once they see the path, they join you.

Helping Others to Move Forward
Richard Beckhardt said, “People don’t resist change. They resist being changed.” Give people the benefit of the doubt. Assume that if they don’t embrace change, it is because they don’t know how bad things are, can’t envision a more positive future, and don’t see a pathway ahead. Listen to them, engage them, and educate them, until together you can move forward.”

Jay W. Vogt is an organizational development consultant, and author of Recharge Your Team – The Grounded Visioning Approach. Learn more at