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24. Apr 2024

Skepticism as an opportunity: The 6 magic moves to use resistance as a driver for change

by Nico Rudorf und Carolin Hauke
Magic Moves: Widerstand kann als wertvolle Ressource genutzt werden.

"Oh God, we have some really difficult people in the department. We have to be careful." That's what a customer said the other day. Transformation projects usually sound wonderful in PowerPoint: the plan for the path to the brave new world is in place, every intervention has been lovingly planned, everyone should now please join in enthusiastically. But the tiled floor of reality is hard. Skepticism, confusion and resistance are the main obstacles to change and development. What is going on here?

Skeptical voices play a crucial role in change processes. Instead of seeing them as an obstacle and ducking away from the supposedly unruly, they can serve as a valuable source of information and critical reflection.
We are convinced that friction is good, so seize the moment. Controversies reveal weak points in the transformation and show where reworking is needed in order to successfully complete the change.

By the way, skeptics are not a minority. In change processes, we usually have to deal with 15% approvers, 70% skeptics and 15% rejecters. Reason enough to deal with this part of the team and engage in a dialog. In this how-to article, we show how resistance can be used as a driver for change and provide 6 practical tips for actively involving skeptics.

Symptome des Widerstands deuten: Die Wandelmatrix.

1. Why, why, why

Before you take measures to engage skeptical employees, you need to understand their concerns and motives. Have conversations, organize workshops and use the approaches and questions of systemic coaching to explore the reasons for scepticism and rejection. This simple matrix helps to interpret symptoms and make deductions ("Managing Complex Change Model" according to Dr. Mary Lippert, 1987).
When frustration arises, for example, the vision, skills, incentives and next steps are usually clear, but there is a lack of resources - i.e. time, money or the necessary personnel to implement the change. Whereas when confusion arises, the overarching vision is often not yet clear (to everyone).

2. In case of doubt for the doubt

Establish channels and formats in which skeptics can express their concerns without fear of sanctions. This can take the form of workshops, retrospectives, discussion forums or feedback meetings. The focus should be on creating an atmosphere of respect and constructive criticism. Impulses and training to strengthen the culture of conflict and discussion as well as non-violent communication are helpful for this.
Effective, but also courageous: a customer from the mobility industry regularly organizes "fight clubs" in which employees are allowed to deliberately and excessively take the "for" and "against" positions in debates. Arguments often go too far, but quickly sharpen the focus on the real sticking points.

3. Join in, do it better

Organize formats in which employees are actively involved in shaping change and developing solutions. These could be idea hackathons, soundings or barcamps, for example. By involving them in participative formats, skeptics feel heard and have the opportunity to contribute their perspective. This turns critics into co-creators. Including the nice side effect that someone who has helped build something finds it harder to kick it to the curb.

4. Hello, hello, turn the radio on

Keep the entire workforce regularly informed about the progress of the change process. Clarify the goals, benefits and consequences of the changes and make sure that all employees know what is expected of them. Even if it comes out of your ears from time to time, it's worth saying things three times in this case.

5. It’s a long way to the top (if you wanna Rock’n’Roll)

Change takes time. Be patient and continuous in your efforts to engage and support skeptics. Give them space for reflection and provide ongoing support through training and resources. Also keep in mind that change is never linear, but build in time for reflection loops and iterations.

6. Well done, my friend!

Don't forget to acknowledge the contributions of skeptical employees. Recognition and appreciation strengthen their commitment and motivation to actively participate in change.

Resistance as a resource

We know that resistance is exhausting and sometimes really annoying. But if you view sceptical voices as a valuable resource for change, you can promote positive change in the organization and also create an atmosphere of trust and cooperation.

Do you want to use the skeptics in your transformation process as a driving force for your transformation project? Then get in touch with us for a consultation.

We are happy to receive project inquiries

Christian Seeringer,

Business Partner Brand & Transformation Strategy

Porträtfoto von Christian Seeringer