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Navigating strategy implementation: Try these strategies to overcome resistance

AUTHOR

Remy Middelhoff

DATE

01/01/2024

length

min read

Imagine this: You have just finished the new company strategy. You are convinced it will be extremely beneficial to the company’s success and you can’t wait to implement it within the organization. You organize all the technical aspects, make sure people have the right resources, knowledge and skills and communicate very clearly. Yet… the organization digs in their heels and is not looking to change anything about their way of working.

People are creatures of habit. Of course, some of us would argue they enjoy change: it’s exciting and holds opportunities. But, especially when the change was not our own choice but someone else’s idea – we tend not to be as enthusiastic right away.

Even when the change is objectively beneficial, it is often met with resistance as a first reaction.

Why?

From a behavioural science perspective, there are different reasons why people resist change. Some examples:

  • Our brain is wired to seek patterns and familiarity. When confronted with change, we disrupt our brains preference for predictability and can trigger emotions such as fear or anxiety.
  • To handle all of life’s choices, we all have mental shortcuts, called biases. These biases help us with automatic decision-making, but are sometimes used unreasonably. An example of a biases that can make us resistant to change is status-quo bias, a bias that makes us prefer the comfort of familiar and existing situations and make it difficult to rationally evaluate the benefits of change
  • Many people are risk-averse, due to personality dispositions, history, experiences and/or culture. Not changing– feels less risky
  • People may not – for whatever reason – be motivated towards the change. Sometimes the new situation is simply not so appealing.
  • People may not feel the self-efficacy to go along with the change; they don’t feel like they can cope with/handle what the change requires from their knowledge, capacity and behaviour.

So how can we cope with this resistance?

Let’s talk about 2 different types of techniques we can focus on whilst dealing with change:

  • Approach techniques. Approach techniques focus on pulling you towards the change; making you want to approach the new state.
  • Avoidance techniques. Avoidance techniques focus on decreasing the forces that are pushing you away from the new state.

In the Approach-Avoidance model of persuasion (Knowles & Linn, 2004), approach techniques are considered ‘Alpha strategies’. Examples include making the change more persuasive, adding incentives, increasing source credibility, providing more information, emphasizing scarcity, using commitment and/or a setting a norm of reciprocity.

But the avoidance techniques bring another side of the coin, an array of strategies to cope with resistance that is often overlooked: Omega strategies. Omega strategies stimulate change by decreasing avoidance forces. Examples of Omega strategies include minimizing the request, pushing the choice into the future, offering a choice, giving a guarantee or distracting from resistance.

Another interesting example of an Omega strategy is raising self-esteem. Research has shown that more confident people are less resistance to change in general, because their self-esteem helps them feel like they can handle the challenge and new situation. Therefore, focusing efforts on increasing employees’ general self-esteem could be the key to long-term change adaptability of the organization.

Navigating resistance to change and especially when implementing a new strategy, demands a nuanced approach that considers both Alpha and Omega strategies. While boosting the ‘approach forces’ of a change initiative can be effective, such as enhancing persuasion and incentives, don’t underestimate the potential impact of ‘Omega strategies’ in reducing avoidance. These tactics, like minimizing requests, delaying decisions, or offering choices, can subtly shift the landscape of resistance.

Moreover, investing in building employees’ self-esteem could strengthen their general adaptability to change, fostering a culture where innovation and transformation become embraced instead of feared.

Let’s go back to our example, where you are dealing with issues in successfully implementing the new strategy in your organisation. Alpha strategies would suggest you to empathize how the new strategy will foster creativity, innovation and company success. Omega strategies on the other hand, would suggest you to acknowledge the discomfort people are experiencing, work on their self-efficacy and implementing in really small steps. By exploring and integrating these diverse strategies, you can foster an environment that not only implements change effectively but also inspires individuals to embrace new possibilities, with enthusiasm and open-mindedness.

 

This blog post is based on the chapter ‘Approach-Avoidance Model of Persuasion: Alpha and Omega Strategies for Change’ by Eric S. Knowles and Jay A. Linn.

Reference Knowles, E. S., & Linn, J. A. (2004). Approach-avoidance model of persuasion: Alpha and omega strategies for change. In Resistance and persuasion (pp. 117-148). Psychology Press.