Resistance isn’t futile: people resist change for good reason

70% of change initiatives fail[i].

If you’ve had any experience of organisational change, you’ve probably already come across this infamous statistic. It’s enough to make change leaders everywhere quake in their boots – particularly since change is becoming a frequent feature of today’s business world.

Change happens around us every day, and most of the time we don’t even notice. There’s no progress without it – and as time goes on, so change goes with it, hand in hand. But if it’s happening so often, why does it continue to be problematic?

At the heart of change failure is change resistance.

There must be a good reason why the majority of employees probably wouldn’t take a change proposal on particularly good terms. Just as organisational change becomes more common, so does change resistance; it’s the vicious circle which happens to be the primary culprit behind change failure. Breaking the cycle means change has to have total support.

So why do we so often resist change in our organisations?

Firstly, we humans inherently prefer patterns and routines. Your employees experience these all the time: they come into work, do their jobs, and leave at the end of the day. Organisational change threatens these routines, and subsequently sparks a stream of personal worries.

How will my role be affected? Will I have less or more work? Aren’t things fine the way they are? Will I lose my job?

So by proposing just one organisational change, you’ve set off a storm of unrelenting concern amongst your support base. It’s the hurdle most change leaders hit first – they unknowingly shoot themselves in the foot before the change has even begun.

Moreover, change is a leap into the unknown. And the unknown is scary, because we don’t know what’s there. Who knows what things will be like after change? Wouldn’t it be safer and easier to stick with what we know?

It’s a question of trust. We rely on trust as a key survival skill. With the amount of threats and uncertainty facing us every day, our trust in the people and things around us strengthens us and makes us more secure. We trust the traditional, the known – and who knows whether the unknown can be trusted?

People aren’t going to embrace the unknown if they don’t have a viable reason for trusting it – and the same goes for change. Why should we place our valuable trust in change if we don’t know what the outcome will be, or worse, whether that outcome will actually be negative?

Another key driver of resistance is simply that people might not see the benefits of changing. There’ll always be some sceptics, averse to new ways of doing things. We see this with technology all the time. When the iPhone was first released, many people thought it would bomb, and rejected it. Now practically everyone owns one. It’s the same story with change – the sceptics might see it as a lot of unnecessary effort for potentially nothing in return. And by thinking negatively, they fail to see the potential benefits.

Perhaps you’ve noticed a common theme amongst these three key drivers of change resistance? People don’t resist because of the prospect of change itself – they resist because of a lack of knowledge and understanding about the change.

So surely the remedy for reducing resistance is to just communicate more? Easy. But we humans are emotional creatures, and we like emotionally compelling stories. It’s a lot less likely that we’ll embrace change if we can’t emotionally invest in it. Change requires personal transition – and if we’re not emotionally driven to that end, we won’t accept it.

You can’t encourage change support by just shouting out facts and reasons. You have to make them compelling and captivating. Simply knowing about the change isn’t enough – there has to be a viable reason for trusting and advocating it as a positive opportunity.

But what about change resistance on an individual, rather than a general, level? In addition to the key general drivers of change resistance, there are our individual Unconscious Motivators, the core influencers of our behaviour, actions, and responses to change. Change can sometimes prevent our Unconscious Motivators from being satisfied, and Trigger resistance. So to emotionally engage people in change, it helps to understand how their unique Unconscious Motivators might influence their response to change, and whether or not they’re likely to drive resistance.

Armed with this knowledge, you can put strategies in place to reduce personal resistance, and encourage an emotional investment in, and acceptance of, organisational change – and eliminate the shocking 70% statistic once and for all.


If you’d like to discover your Unconscious Motivators or find out more about how PRINT could benefit your organisation, email, visit our website and social media (Facebook: @discoveryourprint, Twitter: @Discover_Print, LinkedIn: Print Profile Ltd) or sign up to our mailing list. If you’d like to bring PRINT’s benefits to organisations and businesses, we offer Accreditation courses enabling in-house coaches and learning & development professionals to become certified PRINT coaches.


[i] The Ken Blanchard Companies (2010). Mastering the art of change. [Online]. Surry: The Ken Blanchard Companies. Available at: