Understanding Resistance to Change by Stakeholder Critical in Project Success

Page content

When the Stakeholder Resists

This article addresses methods to analyze resistance to change of individuals needed to support DMAIC projects.Following a Stakeholder Analysis and when planning an influence plan, we need to understand why individuals have difficulty in supporting the changes to the existing process.On an individual basis, resistance typically exists along three different dimensions.

The Political dimension relates to how the individual feels about their power to affect their environment. Resistance along this axis is born through loss of control or in loss of “face” when the project is completed.

The Technical dimension relates to the individual belief that the technical capabilities of the organization are sufficient to accomplish the desired result.

The Cultural dimension relates to how comfortable the individual is that the organization will accept the new process methodology due to cultural issues such as union participation, organizational identification of values, purpose or operations. We typically see this in comments like “we’ve always done it this way” or “you just don’t understand how we do it”.

The evaluation of stakeholders along these three dimensions is critical in determining and planning the communications and influence plan for generating support. Without the analysis any communication has the possibility of being ineffective.

A real life example from my past occurred when I was working with a medical products manufacturer. The process of sterilization of blood collection needles was to be changed from gas sterilization to radiation sterilization. The director for R&D was extremely opposed to the project. After investigating the history of the project and the R&D director, it was found that approximately 10 years before, the same process change had been attempted with disastrous results. I further found that the Director of R&D had been the project engineer for the change.

We determined that the Director existed along two different dimensions of resistance, one being Technical and the other Political. With that knowledge, we put together a communications plan where we addressed technical issues relating to the change of sterilization. We listed and communicated the changes that had occurred over the years, what new technology and materials were available. We determined what type of testing and what new test equipment would be needed to be designed and tested, and any other activity that would be needed to satisfy the risk or failure. We identified specific issues from his position as Director of R&D and had him participate in solving his technology resistance.

The political issues were addressed by providing him minutes of all meetings and tests, making him the project sponsor and allowing him control over the continuation of the project given the results of any tests. This allowed him to save face as the Director of R&D and exert control over his political power within the organization.

Without this analysis, the common literature calls for identifying others who might influence the individual and speak to the advantages of doing the project. In this case, our communications would have missed the mark and no change in support would have been achieved. In fact, due to the high level of influence of the individual, the project may never have happened.

Understanding why people resist and determining how they fit along these three dimensions allows the team to address specifics in the approach for influence of the individual in order to generate positive support for change.