Chapter 8 Exercise Questions

I’m trying to study for my Management course and I need some help to understand this question.

Resource: Ch. 8 of Project Management Leadership

Reflect on each question in the Exercises section on p. 128 of Project Management Leadership.

Respond to each question in approximately 525 words each. Responses can be less formal than an APA formatted paper; like a numbered list.

Submit your assignment.

  1. Reflect on any significant changes you have experienced during your projects.
    1. How did these changes make you feel? Were you apprehensive or confident?
    2. Do you think your needs, as someone involved in the change process, were being addressed and satisfied? On reflection, what do you think were your needs? If they were not met sufficiently, what do you think could have been done?
    3. Early in the change process, were you clear about the outcomes of the intended change? What do you know now about the outcomes? Could this have helped if you had known about the outcomes earlier?
  2. Imagine you are leading a merger of two companies. What do you think would be the main issues for people that would encourage them to resist inevitable changes? How do you think they would react? What behaviors do you think would be observed?
  3. From your consideration of the merger example, what is the first thing you would do to address the issues you have suggested might occur? How would you assist people through the changes?

Chapter 8
Resistance to Change

Projects, by definition, are designed to introduce some kind of change; perhaps a new product or service, a new operating environment or new facilities. There is much emphasis these days on ‘soft projects’ or projects that introduce change within an organization, group or society. These types of projects can be difficult for people who have problems adapting to changes; they can exhibit behaviors that indicate a resistance to change.

1. What is Resistance to Change?

It is important to note that resistance to change is the result of a perceived threat. People’s perception of a threat can be enough to shape their behaviors, though there might not be a real threat at all. People usually interpret events and situations from their own point of view and this perspective might not align with the intentions and understanding of others.

Resistance can take many forms, including active or passive, overt or covert, individual or organized, aggressive or timid.

2. Why is There Resistance to Change?

Even though many changes are intended to bring benefits, moving from a known, familiar position to an unknown, unfamiliar position can introduce feelings of uncertainty, distrust and confusion. In a new situation, we have to learn new things and often need to relearn some things that we already take for granted. This means that many changes require us to change ourselves by changing our behaviors and thinking processes, so that we can adapt to doing things differently. Reasons for resistance to change by the project team members can include:

  • The fear of losing something they value.
  • They don’t properly understand the change and its implications.
  • They don’t think that the change makes sense.
  • They find it difficult to respond to the level or pace of the change.

The nature of project work signifies change of many kinds. Change can specifically affect those who are affected by the project: the users, operators, clients and other stakeholders. Project managers need to be very aware of how changes introduced by the project can affect behaviors and attitudes to project work. For example, the closure of a local health center might result in major opposition from local residents because of the loss of their facility. Suggestions that better, newer facilities are available ten miles away might be insufficient compensation.

Also, it is possible that members of the project team could be affected by change. This could be caused by changed working practices or new environments.

3. What is the Rationale for Resisting the Change?

People usually have their own rationale for resistance because it is based upon their own perceptions and beliefs about the purpose and outcomes of the change. Therefore, they are able to justify their actions to themselves. Some people can become reliant on a habit; they do not see the need to change and can view any suggestion of change with distaste. The needs of the individual (see the section about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in Chapter 19 on Motivation) are already being satisfied in the current situation. The new situation might not satisfy those needs properly or to the same level. If people are comfortable with the status quo, the leader might need to introduce a threat to the current situation that alters or removes the current provision of needs, making the current situation uncomfortable and providing a reason for people no longer to want to stay where they are.

There could be heavy personal investment in the current position that will be lost in moving to a new position. Such investment can be financial but, more often, it involves time and energy that provides a social and organizational status that has created a personal identity and establishes some control over their environment. Leaders must consider how their new position will retain or improve the status and explain how their investment will not be lost.

‘I do not want to change because, even if I am not that happy where I am, I still may not be particularly interested in moving forward with the change.’ Some reasons why this might be the case are presented in Table 8.1.

Leaders of change need to carefully consider the motivators, values and beliefs of those stakeholders who might resist the change. This information can then be used to construct a change vision and plan that will best meet their needs.

Table 8.1: Reasons Why People Do Not Want to Change

‘I Do Not Want to Change Because’ Behind the Situation Leadership Action
‘The destination looks worse than where I am now.’ ‘Although I may not like the place I am in now, the result of the change looks significantly worse for me than my current position. I feel it is like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.’ To encourage people to voluntarily move, the destination must be better than where they are now. This can be achieved by either making the existing position worse or by communicating an attractive vision of the desired change.
‘There is nothing to attract me there.’ ‘All the benefits of the change seem to be for other people or I do not see the ‘vision’ as attractive, then I will not feel that the destination is worth the effort.’ The ‘vision’ should be clear, understandable and inclusive so that people feel involved and can welcome the change.
‘I do not know how to start.’ ‘Though I can relate to the vision, I do not know what are the first steps or how to make the journey.’ Sufficient planning and preparation needs to consider how each person can contribute and what steps are needed to start the journey.
‘The journey there looks painful.’ ‘I like the vision and know the steps needed, but I think the journey seems difficult and problematic. I anticipate much pain in the transition.’ The journey to the destination must not appear so uncomfortable that people refuse to travel. The leader must manage people’s perception of the journey by effectively designing and communicating the transition.
‘The destination or journey is bad or wrong.’ ‘The destination or journey compromises my personal values and I am not prepared to compromise.’ The leader must be aware of established organizational, social and personal values, treating them with sensitivity.
‘I do not trust those who are asking me to change.’ ‘My experience is that the leader is not trustworthy so I do not believe the vision or plan for getting there.’ The leader must have integrity and give people good reason to trust him/her.
‘I am able to ignore the change.’ ‘I don’t feel I have to make the journey because the negative consequences of my non-compliance are negligible.’ The leader ensures that all players receive good reasons to move from their current position and to work towards the destination.
‘I have the power to obstruct the change.’ When faced with change, senior staff can work actively to prevent or stall it. This can be for what they consider to be justifiable reasons and they may not realize their personal resistance. Their actions could be to block decisions or to remove resources or other support. High-level support for the change at a top level in the organization should be sought so that such resistance can be managed appropriately.

4. What Can the Leader do About Resistance to Change?

When resistance to change occurs, a well-organized leader will recognize it early and respond appropriately in a timely fashion. A poor leader will be surprised when the change mysteriously fails.

4.1 Recognizing Resistance to Change

Leaders should recognize any early signs of resistance to change so that any effects can be managed before they get out of hand. These are some signs of resistance that leaders should keep on their radar.

A good leader will have an ear in the office grapevine and should monitor any discomfort or dissent. It is not necessary to act immediately because there will always be some initial expression of discomfort to any change (see Figure 8.1, The Change Transition Process). Leaders should respond to gossip and rumor by providing valid information and show they are listening to concerns and taking them seriously. More focused action should be taken when there are any attempts to organize resistance.


Figure 8.1: The Change Transition Process

Some people resist by refusing to support the change; for example, they may appear to agree with the change and then not take their part in the process. One approach the project leader can take is to set formal actions, in public if necessary, to ensure that the changes are completed.

Taking specific and deliberate action to resist the change provides more active resistance. If this resistance is openly expressed, then the leader has the opportunity to address it. However, if the resistance is expressed covertly, then it is more difficult to identify who are the active resisters. The leader might need to identify the source of the resistance before the real issues can be addressed.

4.2 What Can Leaders Focus On to Promote Change?

In order to help and support people through change, leaders need to work with people through a number of important concepts and issues. The leader needs to ask important questions to establish clarity and obtain information about how people are relating to the proposed change.

Beliefs: Beliefs drive thought and behavior; if you can understand a person’s beliefs, you can help them through the change process. What beliefs do they have about themselves and other people? How strong are their beliefs? What are the beliefs that they have that led them to oppose the change? What beliefs do they have that could reinforce the change?

Values: Values guide and shape behavior, indicating what is right and wrong, good and bad, important and unimportant. Identifying the values that people hold can suggest what they will not do as much as what they will do. Are any of their values being compromised by proposed change actions? Compromising certain values can trigger stress which can introduce resistance to change. To assist the change process, the leader should try to appeal to supportive values.

Goals: Goals are established to help satisfy our values and needs. Resistance to change can be managed by identifying people’s goals and how they are affected by change. For example, what are their career goals? Will they be affected by the proposed change?

Perception: Perception is reality for some people, even it if is not really true. Leaders should attempt to understand how the change is perceived – what do they think will happen? What do they think about stakeholders involved in the change? Do they think the stakeholders are competent and fair? What help or assistance do they think will be available? Will others gain an unfair advantage?

Negative Influence: What are those people resisting change likely to do to oppose the change? What power or authority do they have? What kind of power is it – position, expertise, social, etc.? How might they use their power? What could be the impact of that power? How widespread could the impact be? How can leaders influence their use of power?

Triggers: Triggers are the actions or events that cause a person to take specific action. What are the events that would cause a person to take action against the change? What could the leader do to diffuse the situation beforehand? Who are the people that might influence a person to take opposing action and who might help to diffuse a difficult situation?

5. Ideas About How Change Happens

A number of ideas and models are available that help us to plan and scope a change process. Here we will investigate three of the most helpful models appropriate to leadership in projects.

5.1 Elisabeth Kubler Ross: The Change Transition Process

Elisabeth Kubler Ross, a Swiss American psychiatrist (1926–2004), provided the basis for a change model that has been adopted by management and leadership practitioners. The original purpose of the development was to assist transition through bereavement [Kubler Ross (1969) On Death and]

The Kubler Ross model has been developed into the Change Transition Process (Beer, Eisenstat and Spec, 1990) which suggests that people experience variation in moods and feelings that affects their behavior and ability to cope during a period of change.

Figure 8.1 shows the Change Transition Process presented as a graph showing how self-esteem and performance can change during a period of change. In the left-hand part of the graph, we are made aware of a change and we initially cope with the change situation. Self-esteem and performance rise through a process of denial until we achieve full realization of the implications of the change. At this point, self-esteem and performance reduce due to a feeling of anger about the change which translates into resistance to the change.

During this phase of the transition, our perspective, focus, thoughts and language are about the past. How has the change affected our life and how will those things we are used to become different? At some point we realize that we cannot continue responding to the change in this way and there is a realization that we need to behave differently in order to move forward.

During this first half of the transition, the leadership role is paramount. The leader needs to provide support, helping to develop a shared vision and to foster consensus about the change. As the self-esteem and performance decrease, appropriate training can be provided and, possibly, changing roles and accountabilities can help people through this difficult part of the transition (Doughty, 1999).

It can take a long time to journey to the point where we can let go of the past, realizing that the change is inevitable, and start to focus on the future. We start looking for ways to deal with the change, learning new approaches and searching for ways to rebuild our lives. Our self-esteem and performance begin to improve, possibly after some attempts at inappropriate approaches, until we are able to accept and internalize the change.

In this second half of the transition, the focus is on the team and the individual and how they are able to adapt to the change. Team or personal development should continue, with support, until the change is eventually internalized (or institutionalized) and new behaviors are naturally exhibited. People should be monitored and developed continually to ensure that the change has actually been accepted.

5.2 Double-Loop Learning

Learning is a change process. Normally we learn through a straightforward process whereby we observe something and recognize that it represents something new or different. We then try to fit it into our existing ‘view of the world’. This means that our new learning needs to be assimilated or aligned with what we already know, referred to as our existing ‘schema’ or ‘paradigm’. Our knowledge and understanding are built by a series of such learning incidents – we have constructed our current perception via this process over the period of our lives.

Significant difficulty arises when our new learning does not properly fit with our existing paradigm. We experience something that does not connect with our view of the world. There have been many experiences of this throughout history. Once upon a time, people believed that the world was flat or that the Sun revolved around the Earth. At some point, someone made an observation that challenged the flat Earth theory and it was realized that the world was like a ball. Of course, this caused much upheaval and confusion as all those assumptions about flatness had to be converted to roundness!

It is much the same when we discover something that challenges our existing beliefs. We have seen something with our own eyes, or have trusted evidence that something is correct and verifiable. However, all our existing knowledge says it is impossible or, at least, very unlikely. This kind of change can be very uncomfortable, as people in history found when they had to come to terms with the fact that the Earth orbits the Sun.

When we experience such a challenge to our paradigm, our learning is compounded because we have to change our view of the world in order to accommodate our recent observation. Sometimes this is referred to as ‘double-loop learning’ because we have to extend our learning process in order to modify or reprogram our paradigm. In this way, learning can often incorporate unlearning; that is, we need to work to forget something old at the same time as we remember something new. Double-loop learning is based upon the work of Argyris and Schön (1978).

6. Everett Rogers – Diffusion of Innovations

Rogers developed his work to investigate why certain farmers were not purchasing and using the latest developments in agricultural machinery and chemicals during the mid 20th century in America. He identified that, during a period of innovation, people generally took one of a number of specific perspectives.

How innovations diffuse into a community can be considered an example of a process of change. Innovations represent new ideas that can be accepted or rejected, depending upon the individual’s point-of-view. Some people are prepared to quickly accept an innovation or change and others are not. The process of diffusion, developed by Rogers (1962), is important because it explains how leaders can create an environment to assist change to propagate through a community.

6.1 Diffusion Roles

There are a number of roles necessary to move an innovation from idea to adoption by sufficient members of a community (see Figure 8.2). These roles assist the progression of the innovation or change within the population. It is important to note that each person can have a different role in different situations.


Figure 8.2: Diffusion of Innovations – Everett Rogers

Innovators: About 2% of the population are innovators. They are usually curious about ideas for their own sake and are able to cope well with novelty and change. Innovators look to others to develop and realize their ideas because they often lose interest in the idea once it has reached some maturity and they need to move on to the next idea.

Visionaries: About 11% of the population are visionaries and have an entrepreneurial spirit. They take ideas and shape them into something that can be of use to others. Generally, visionaries are risk takers who are interested in revolutionary change by developing novel ideas to fit their own purposes. The visionary links ideas with those who are likely to use them and so needs to connect to networks of innovators and early adopters. An idea might take six months before it reaches the visionary who might take another six months before their development of the idea is ready.

Early Adopters: These represent about 38% of the population. Early adopters are looking for greater efficiency and effectiveness but need to reduce risks through ‘social validation’ of ideas provided by visionaries. Visionaries effectively prove the worth of an idea and ‘package’ it to be accessible to the early adopter, who can only cope with evolutionary change. Good innovations diffuse into a community through a network of early adopters who pass them to each other. This network of early adopters effectively proves the worth of the innovation through its application and promotes it as acceptable to the wider community. In the computer industry, an example of an early adopter would be those people who ‘beta test’ a new product or service. An idea might be over 12 months old before it reaches the early adopter and can need further development of another 12 to 18 months before it can move to the next group – late adopters.

Late Adopters: About 38% of the population are late adopters. They do not welcome disruption and require any change to be painless. Usually, their interests are elsewhere and they are driven to adopt an innovation through fear of social isolation for not keeping up with others. An idea can be three years old or more before the late adopter considers it worthy of investigation.

Laggards: About 11% of the population are laggards. This is the remaining portion of the community who would not overtly adopt the innovation at any price. The only way the idea would be taken by a laggard is if it is subsumed in another product. For example, a laggard might refuse to use a computer but will be unaware that a computer is controlling the engine management in their motor car. Laggards have another interesting role in the diffusion of innovations. Through refusing to adopt the innovation, they are often the vanguards of the next movement of change. For example, those laggards that Rogers was trying to understand through his research into the adoption of new agricultural products became the innovators of the environmental movement in the 1960s. They had observed that farms using the new chemicals had a bad effect on local wildlife and thought this was not a good thing.

7. Conclusions

In this chapter, we have briefly considered how a leader can approach a situation involving change. The change might involve an individual where the leader needs to address personal issues, or it could regard group issues, such as working conditions or processes. Generally, there can be initial resistance to change and the leader needs to be prepared for such eventuality by clearly stating the change vision and approach. If followers cannot quickly come to terms with the change, the leader must take more focused action to assist progression of change actions. Significantly, change takes time and stamina.

Key Points:

  1. Projects involve change, and resistance to change is inherent in project work.
  2. There are many good reasons why people resist change and these reasons are always important to them.
  3. Resistance to change invokes negative perspectives which can be managed, influenced and overcome. This can be part of a significant learning process that can introduce additional change for individuals.
  4. Sometimes those resisting change can actually have a better perspective, suggesting that the intended change can be wrong. They can be the instigators of the next phase of change.


Argyris, C., and Schön, D. (1978) Organizational Learning: A theory of action perspective, Reading, MA: Addison Wesley.

Beer, M., Eisenstat, R.A. and Spector, B. (1990) ‘Why change programs don’t produce change’, Harvard Business Review, November.

Doughty, S. (1999) Change in Organisations, unpublished paper.

Kubler Ross, E. (1969) On Death and Dying, Routledge.

Rogers, E. (1995) Diffusion of Innovations, fourth edition, Routledge.

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