Overcoming resistance to change

Change projects too often end up like a new year’s resolution.

A few months after a big launch, momentum fizzles and backsliding begins. Eventually, familiar ways regain their hold. The majority of change projects end up this way.

Change that lasts over time requires more than an action plan, resolve and ‘quick wins’. The best of intentions can be overpowered by deep-seated beliefs that reside naturally in all of us. Some may form an immunity to change, a human phenomenon discovered by psychologists Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey, both Harvard professors. As principals of Minds At Work, Kegan and Lahey have developed a framework to identify hidden factors that are creating resistance to change. Their methods are used around the world. 

We help people see their own ‘change immune system’, based on our training with Minds at Work.

TAKEAWAY Participants quickly see factors that may be conflicting with change sustaining over time. They leave with a personal plan for change readiness.

TIMING Especially helpful when starting a transformation or re-setting a transformation that’s stalled.

INTENDED FOR  Individuals  |  Leadership/creative teams 


Getting from here to there

Managing change takes constant navigation.

Similarities to a journey are apt. There can be slowdowns, obstacles, detours, and people wanting to know, ‘are we there yet’? There even can be ‘weather’, events elsewhere in the organization or the environment that influence how much progress can be made at any given tim.

Our experience is that effective change management requires more than incentives, building a coalition, and quick wins. Those can help, but we’ve seen that sustainable change comes after four additional pieces are in place:

  • Before starting: determining change readiness
  • While underway: looking for weak signals and making course corrections accordingly
  • From start to finish: keeping a constant focus on the external environment
  • From before starting and lasting after the main part is done:over-communicating with staff

It takes constant adaptation. Individuals and circumstances change, too. The map of where you want to go is still valuable but requires deviations and course corrections all along the route. Forcing a change to stay on track simply because it was planned that way is counterproductive. Knowing the tolerance for change before starting takes the guesswork out of any adjustments.

We’ve implemented many changes projects, large and small, and seen them through to a successful conclusion. We suggest a reasonable period be built-in before any change project gets underway. The overall time to a positive outcome likely stays the same, but more time upfront means the process can proceed more quickly.


  • Project design and validation
  • Change readiness assessment
  • Facilitation of sessions at key stages
  • Issues management
  • Identification or design of training programs as required
  • Guidance to management or direct project leadership, as warranted
  • Progress reporting at regular intervals or by milestones, or both


  • 3 – 18 months
  • The high degree of variability is influenced by the project scope and by emerging circumstances


Transformation re-starts

The longer a transformation stays idle, the harder it is to get going again.

Stopping part-way through squanders the groundwork already invested. It denies opportunities anticipated in the original plan. Stopping also reduces the chances for success in the next change project.

Regaining momentum requires a concerted effort. Missteps reinforce resistance, retrenchment, and the negativity that may have already put the project in park. The way forward needs to be clearly and universally communicated until traction is assured.

We get things moving again, either advising from the sidelines or in a front-line role. We have several prior instances to draw upon, including changes in presentation and formats, substantial shifts in workplaces and workflows, and implementing new operating priorities.

We begin with where things stand without dwelling on ‘what went wrong’. Instead, we focus on practical steps forward.


  • Resumption of transformation in a way that will sustain over time
  • Step-by-step advice or direct project management, as situations warrant


  • 3 – 12 months
  • High degree of variability, influenced by the project scope and by emerging circumstances

Listening for better

The experts in an organization walk in the door every day.

Their observations and ideas are highly relevant because they are grounded in everyday practice. Talking with them and listening for what can be done better identifies course corrections that make a difference. It also surfaces high-value practices that are important to preserve in the midst of change.

Our focus is on identifying solutions, of any size, in a series of conversations, either one-on-one or in groups. We help people detach from next-hour needs and think of the bigger picture. All comments are unattributed.

Often small things can make a big difference. Big ideas emerge, too. Either way, the results add from-the-floor validity to a plan that’s in development or speed-up an implementation that’s underway.


  • Conduct interviews with staff members, and if desired, external stakeholders
  • Facilitate one or more group sessions (if required)
  • Provide written findings with recommendations 
  • Present report to commissioning manager(s)


  • Typically completed within 2-4 weeks
  • Varies by the numbers of people involved and their availability