Changing things up? Expect Resistance.

 In Blog, Human Resources, Marketing and Communications

Why is change so hard?

Many have joked that most projects would have been a breeze if it weren’t for the people. So why do people create obstacles? In most cases it’s due to resistance – either as a response to previous change efforts that didn’t go well, a lack of understanding why a change is needed, or simply because there are already several change projects already underway.

The research underlines the difficulty of changing the minds of people who have no desire to do so. As leaders and managers, what we can focus on is creating the conditions so that the change becomes the better option.

The ADKAR model of change management

How do you create the conditions that are more likely to lead to change? The Prosci Group has been gathering research on this for over a decade. They have developed a simple but robust results-oriented model that takes change management activities and maps them into a sequential process of steps. This process has been adapted into a model called “ADKAR”.

ADKAR represents the steps of Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement. Employees who advance through this process have a much greater likelihood of developing the resilience and the interest in making the change successful.

Of course, it takes time and resources to apply this model. However, there is a compelling case to be made for doing it. Take the implementation of a new IT system. From an engineering standpoint, most projects are fairly clear-cut. A business case has been made, the technology has been chosen and is implemented over a timeline. However, if only 30% of employees embrace the new technology, the original business case is no longer valid.

In fact, the originally forecasted gains can quickly turn to losses if people do not get on board. The ROI of a project is dependent on all planned users adopting the change. As shown in this chart of ROI of change management, a significant portion of the expected savings is lost due to resistance resulting in a slow kick-off and delayed adoption.

Prosci's ROI of Change Management Model

The key is increased awareness and a desire for change

Adopting the first two steps of ADKAR – increasing employee awareness of why the project has been proposed and creating the desire for change – establishes a different set of conditions and leads to a much better likelihood that the project can advance along a reasonable timeline. These deliberate first steps are needed to create winning conditions for projects to achieve success.

Now, let’s dive deeper.

Why do change management projects fail?

It’s all about leadership. An extraordinary number of projects involving change management fail insofar as 80% do not achieve the forecasted results. So what is the primary reason these projects fall short of the mark? The main reason change management projects fail can be chalked up to leadership. Research shows that the number one success factor for managing change is active executive sponsorship.

What are the roles of an executive sponsor?

The Prosci Group’s research identifies three critical roles:

  • Sponsors actively and visibly participate in change.
  • Sponsors build a coalition of sponsorship between key business leaders.
  • Sponsors communicate directly with employees about why the change is needed.

Why are these roles so important?

When a change leader carries out these roles effectively, a number of things become evident. First, the senior level endorsement enables sufficient resources and funding to be made available, priorities are set and roadblocks are removed. The ongoing visibility of the sponsor keeps the priority level high.

Second, a coalition of sponsorship is formed with other leaders, which helps to manage resistance in related areas. And third, employees understand why the change is being made and how it aligns with the organization’s mandate. A channel of communication is established so that any objections or resistance can be addressed.

Some of the most common mistakes are in selecting a leader without sufficient sponsorship. The research identifies three possibilities for failure:

  • Not having the sponsor at the appropriate level in the organization, or
  • Having the right level of sponsor but s/he lacks the ability to act as an effective sponsor, or
  • Having the right level of sponsor but s/he lacks the desire to implement the change.

Proceeding with a project of change without the necessary sponsorship is likely to result in wasted resources, project delays, and problems with implementation. Getting right the success factor of executive sponsorship can make a big difference to the desired outcome of a change management project.


The Business Sherpa Group is well positioned to provide the expertise to establish a strategic communications framework, to coach leaders on how they can engage their team, show employees how to take next steps, and to support the process together. Find out how communications can engage your stakeholders, meet their expectations, and create a robust foundation capable of sharing successful outcomes.

About the Author

Dyna Vink is a senior communications, marketing and change management professional with a proven track record in delivering measurable results through imaginative solutions. She has over 20 years of experience in leading a wide range of initiatives in the areas of strategic communications, marketing, communications for change, and stakeholder engagement.

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