Services Marketing

A Quick Guide to Managing Resistance to S-Business Change

By Jim Alexander and Mark Hordes

Anyone who has participated in an organizational change effort knows the tension that develops and the resistance that naturally occurs when the people of the organization are asked to behave in new and different ways. Productivity immediately drops as water cooler conversations (both face-to-face and electronic) speculating on the impact and political ramifications of the change and the always present. What’s going to happen to me take a priority over the mundane tasks of meeting customer requirements. In addition to the obvious loss of focus and efficiency, other multiple costs of resistance take their toll, touching everything from loss of key employees to lowered corporate credibility to stifled innovation.

The purpose of this column is geared toward providing those trying to drive change, ‘S-Business Champions,’ with a few proven concepts and one powerful tool for overcoming the resistance to this important transition. Steps that, if followed, can help lower fears, knock down barriers, and smooth the change by getting key people onboard quickly. Managing change and the natural resistance that occurs means addressing each of the four fundamental elements that are the drivers of how well and how fast people do what you want them to do.


Fear of change (the unknown) affects everyone, so don’t emphasize it! In communicating change efforts, start by explaining and reinforcing what won’t change. These include the organization’s values that will remain constant, the elements of the strategy that stay the same, and the aspects of people’s jobs that will continue. This approach helps ground people and gives them the feeling of control required to deal with what must be different. It also greatly increases people’s willingness to listen. Our recommended communication pattern for each element of a change is:

  1. State what remains constant.
  2. Explain what will change, why it will change, and the stakeholder benefits of the change.
  3. Describe what the organization is doing to support the change.

Here is a simple example of this communication strategy with regard to a compensation package for a product salesperson being asked to sell services actively:

  1. Constant: Compensation for product sales will stay the same (we are not taking anything away from you).
  2. Change: There will be additional compensation for selling services (you can only gain from this).
  3. Support: Training in selling services will be provided (we know that you need new knowledge and skills we are willing to invest in you to do the new job).

Having worked with transitioning many a product sales organization to selling services, believe us, the above approach is a must!

#2 Predictability

This also is important in managing change. Professionals need to fully understand not only what is going to occur but when it will happen. This allows people to schedule their own actions and get themselves psychologically ready to meet the new challenge. In our product salesperson example above, predictability can be established by immediately sharing the key points of the new services compensation while simultaneously scheduling the salespeople for their first training session.

#3 Personal Absorption Levels

People can manage only so much change at one time. At the most, an organization’s threshold for change at any given time is three major initiatives. However, an individual’s personal threshold is only one, and each person varies as to the amount of time they need to go through each change phase. A good way to determine if the pace of change is on track is to conduct some focus groups with affected staff and ask them how they are managing the change and what more can be done to help them absorb what is occurring. Sometimes simple things like communications updates, reviews of timelines, personal visits with functional change agents and sponsors, and ‘lunch and learn’ sessions to find out how everything is moving along will help. With
our above-mentioned product sales force, the best way to check on personal absorption is to accompany some salespeople in the field for a few days.

Observe them making sales calls. Actually see them perform. Then ask them about their comfort level with the new expectations.

# 4 Level of Resolve

Following the above steps often is adequate in most situations. However, when individuals are being asked to make major changes in behavior, their own personal resolve becomes an important success factor. Personal resolve is fortified by first understanding that we are personally affected by change, like it or not, then thinking through options, implications, and actions. Providing training on change fundamentals and how each of us deals with changes on a personal and professional level helps increase our resolve to effectively manage the transition.

Our product sales example is one of these situations, as it is a major change, and many salespeople are at risk of not successfully transitioning. In addition to training in services selling that focuses on knowledge and skills, there should be facilitated sessions dealing with the mindset issues associated with this significant transition.

One tool that has worked well for our firm in helping our clients make the s-business transition is the Motivation to Change Matrix.

It is a simple, but extremely helpful tool in helping you quickly size up the motivation level of all key stakeholders related to supporting or resisting the change. Dealing across the board with the four elements shown in the illustration will have very positive results. However, with any change worth making, there will be specific pockets of resistance some with key stakeholders critical to the transition. Here is a brief description of the four classifications:

  1. Resistors. Those in the organization that you believe will actively work at stopping the change and maintaining the status quo.
  2. ‘Let It Happen’ People. Individuals who are neutral to the change and will neither support nor try to stop the transformation. ‘Que sera sera’ is the motto of these folks.
  3. ‘Help It Happen’ People. These are the people who are willing to dedicate some percentage of their time to help move the change
    effort forward.
  4. ‘Make It Happen’ People. These are the highly valued change sponsors who have the capability and the desire to help push the rock uphill. Their philosophy is, ‘We will do whatever it takes to make the transition successful.’

Once you have figured out where each of your key stakeholders are located on the matrix, the next step is to create a tactical plan for each quadrant. Brainstorming helps generate ideas on first finding out what is important to these stakeholders, then coming up with interesting ways to address them. First start with your ‘Make It Happen’ people and try to leverage their desire to bring about
change. The tactic for each of the other three quadrants is to move them along, one quadrant at a time. For example, forget about turning resistors into sponsors. Just try and neutralize them by moving them into the ‘Let It Happen’ zone.

Here is a personal example. In one circumstance, a divisional manager was quite vocal about not supporting the sbusiness change until we discovered that the root cause of his resistance was that it was not his idea. The strategy that was developed to move him into the ‘Let It Happen’ zone was as simple as developing an internal news story with his picture on the front cover along with an interview in which he was given credit for the s-business change. Later we found out that most people believed that the s-business transformation was his idea. Consequently, his attitude and motivation changed quickly. Although he never lifted a finger to support the project, he no longer tried to stop it either. The project proceeded on course and was ultimately quite successful. Remember, keep brainstorming how you can move everyone up at least one notch. If you don’t manage change, change will manage you. Be a proactive catalyst for change, and plan and address resistance before it happens.

Jim Alexander and Mark Hordes are partners with Alexander Consulting, LLC, a management consultancy that creates and implements strategies for professional services organizations. Contact them at 239-283-7400 or visit

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