Optimus Think

Is it Normal to Resist Change?


Perhaps the simple answer for this question is … Yes! However, what may not be common is our response to the change process. Hopson and Adams (1976) postulated that an individual coping with change goes through a seven-phase process:

  1. Numbness (Shock) – The individual is overwhelmed, and unable to respond to the event
  2. Minimization – The individual tries to make the change appear smaller than it is
  3. Self-doubt – The individual is confused and uncertain of his/her ability (scared)
  4. Anger – The individual is irritated for being displaced from his/her state of equilibrium
  5. Depression – A dangerous phase which could last long and sometimes results in quitting or conflict
  6. Letting Go – The individual starts to let go of anxiety and stress associated emotions; detaches oneself from the past and turns to focus on the future
  7. Testing Out (Acceptance) – The person develops new energy, a sense of confidence, and agreement

Business executives and front line staff alike pass through this process in almost all projects that involve an element of change (with various intensities). Interestingly, however, this process is not always smooth and sequential as is outlined by Hopson and Adams. Rather, many individuals follow this process out of order; sometimes jumping or even looping between these phases. This is likely due to (at least) two important factors that directly impact an individual’s personal change response:

1. Genetic Disposition

Sometimes individuals differ in their ability to gain access to (and benefit from) different learning experiences. This often occurs due to inherited qualities such as physical appearance, special abilities, race, gender, and inclination to physical illness. Individuals of different genetic disposition often have had different learning experiences and hence perceive changes differently.

2. Environmental Conditions and Events

Oftentimes, external events that are outside of any one person’s control can affect perceptions of change. External events can include a diverse range of social, cultural, and economic conditions – whether they are positive or negative in nature. In particular, external events usually serve to alter people’s perceptions of the urgency of a particular change.

The Take-Away:

In any change project, from strategic refinements to process overhauls, there are always some stakeholders that are supportive of the particular change and there are always others that resist it. In many cases, businesses turn to consultants to help guide them through a successful change implementation because of their experience in dealing with the all-too-important, and often-times unpredictable human response to change. Part of the consultant’s challenge therefore, is to assist individuals in effectively responding to the challenges of each phase.

The result is that driving forces of change are enhanced, while restraining forces are either reduced or converted into new driving forces. It is only after the needs and wants of all groups of stakeholders are appreciated that a successful change can be implemented.

The best management consultants, however, look beyond conducting a fundamental stakeholder analysis. As many individuals do not follow the Hopson and Adams model sequentially, it follows that there is no single change methodology that can be applied to every project. Instead, the best management consultants leverage a variable set of practices, tools, and techniques; all of which may be adapted to meet an organization’s needs (or a specific group of stakeholders’ needs, for that matter). These consultants appreciate the factors that result in variable change responses, which in turn allows them to work with clients to more accurately forecast and plan for the anomalies to the Hopson and Adams model. The result is that the change initiatives are optimized for time and cost, as clients develop newfound momentum, boost their self-confidence, and are more accepting of the change as a whole.

Optimus Think