Searching for the most elegant way to create change

Resistance to change is often misunderstood. Truly understanding what's happening (when people seem to resist) can give you the key to more impactful change.


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Searching for the most elegant way to create change

Resistance is most often mentioned as a reason for failed change programs. But resistance is not a reason, it's merely a signal of the real reason why change isn't happening.

Levels of Resistance

In my role as change designer & facilitator, I often use the simple framework of colleague Rick Maurer that explains the 3 levels of resistance that occur in organizations when making changes.

1. Level of cognition: “I don’t understand it”

2. Level of emotion: “I don’t want this”

3. Level of trust: “I don’t trust it/you”

If you want to understand this framework a bit better, read “Communication is not the same as engagement”.

The level of Attention

I think this framework covers pretty well the types of resistance you can run into and it offers a basis for dealing with the roots of resistance. Nonetheless, based on my experience with change programs, I would like to add one level to this list, let’s look at it as Ground Zero:

0. Level of attention: “I don’t have any mental space left for this”


Attention is probably where it all starts. It plays most of the times subconsciously. When people say they have no time for something, you’re probably dealing with this level. People are overloaded with information and changes these days. Their mailbox is filled with memos on why they need to change. Every white space on the wall is covered with communication about the latest initiatives. Every free hour is claimed for live or video communications on important topics. And all this on top of all the other work and information (read mails) people receive every day.

When people are hit by a tsunami of words, visuals, urgencies, strategies, action plans, etc, there’s no mental place left for any other change. People start thinking that it’ll pass by or that only when the going gets tough, it’ll be time to change.

Change our approach to change management

It’s not really a matter of not having time (but often used as an explanation why people don’t change), it’s mainly a matter of attention. This means that we need to redesign our approach to change itself, to deal with this limited attention span. How? By not wanting a one-size-fits-all approach for every change program or intervention -because then your initiative lands on the ‘mountain of overload’- but by searching for the most elegant way to create the change that is needed. Reducing the it to its essence. And the way to do that might be completely different than what you used to do.

Do you have any examples of dealing with the limited attention span? Other approaches to change management itself?