Effectively Handling Internal Resistance When Leading Change

As an executive or a leader in any capacity, you’re going to seek innovation and change in order to continue growing as an organization. Change can be scary, but as a leader, it’s your job to shepherd people forward into the future.

Every time you try to institute change or propose a new way of working, you’re going to come across a handful of people who try to negate your ideas or who refuse to incorporate the new processes. Many employees and your fellow executives will experience (and voice) their insecurities and concerns, while others will actively try to prevent progress from happening.

To prepare yourself for this, you should understand the basic types of resistance and how to work with these individuals or learn how to work around them.

The Types of Resistance You Can Work With or Around

Within an established institution, it's natural to "kick up a little dust" when you start recommending a change. People will naturally be worried, but not everyone will try to undermine your suggestions. The people who do put up a fight will do so in a few ways:

1. "Things are working just fine for me the way they are."
These people like to keep the status quo the way it is because they are benefiting the most from the current state of affairs. Whether this is in regards to how many sales they make, how they manage the department, or even what their salary is, they don’t want change because the change won’t directly benefit them.
You will need to help these individuals see that the coming changes will benefit them in the long run, or show that their current system is flawed. If they can’t be swayed, let them know the changes will happen without them.

2. "I’ll help you institute these changes if you throw me a bone."
A number of other executives will try this tactic. Maybe they want more funding for their department or they want a personal raise. Maybe they just promise to stay out of your way and not raise a fuss if you do this “one thing” for them.

Sometimes, if the demands aren’t like a hostage situation, you can consider meeting them. Other times, you will have to seek peers or other executives support to help you address the situation by, in effect, out numbering them. They may need to see that the boat is leaving with everyone else on board and they will be left behind if they don’t climb on board too.

3. "I’m not going to help you, but I won’t stand in your way."
Passive aggressive resistance is probably the hardest you’ll have to deal with in your executive work. Even if they agree to your changes or accept specific tasks to move your idea forward, you’ll see that they drag their feet, miss deadlines, or make comments that they are “only doing what’s best for the company.”

While they’ll never admit that they are trying to resist, you will have to either give them harder deadlines or more specific responsibilities. Passive aggressive people hate being publicly held accountable. Knowing that they will be called out usually does the trick.

4. "I know more about this company and its processes than you."
The people who believe they are vital to the workings of the company and who have (probably) been there longer than you hold a lot of clout over his or her fellow employees. This is going to be a big roadblock for anyone trying to institute change. Instead of trying to work with this one person, though, try working with the group.

This will prevent the “more experienced” individual from miscommunicating to others and will allow your process, logic, and answers to be visible to the group. Address the concerns the team (and this individual) has head-on, and show the resistant person that the team is behind you after this. This person is not going to back down until he or she sees that they’re in the minority.

Embody the Idea That Change is Good

The most important role you will ever have as a leader is showing people that change will be beneficial. No matter what kind of resistance you are met with, the base of it all is fear of the unknown. As the capable leader you have planned and plotted in the face of the unknown. It’s your job to show people how you’re going to move forward and overcome obstacles and mitigate risks in ways that benefit the business and everyone involved.