In a study by the Conference Board, respondents rated organizational resistance as the biggest challenge to implementing successful change. Resistance is a natural reaction to any change. For example, employees have been trained to work in a particular way; they follow certain processes; and they have mastered those processes over time. Then a change comes along. Isn’t it natural that at least some people would question the change even when the reasons are compelling? Others might go beyond questioning and simply refuse to budge. Psychologists and motivational theorists shed light on why people resist. At the most basic level, resistance to change is a breakdown in what we call the Commitment Curve. Any change requires people to move through the curve from Unawareness on the left to Commitment on the right with all of the other phases in between (unawareness, awareness, understanding, acceptance, commitment). Different people will be at different places on the curve when change is announced. If they are on the left side of the curve, their resistance will be greater. If they are on the right side of the curve, their resistance will be less.

Understanding the Commitment Curve, and assessing where employees are on the curve, can help you anticipate the level of resistance to change and plan ways to overcome it. Great leaders of change help accelerate the transition through the commitment curve by engaging employees’ Heads by emphasizing facts, logic, and details; the Hands of employees by orienting them to the new skills and capabilities required, letting them try it out, and rewarding people for experimenting; and the Hearts by describing why the change is important, answering “What’s in it for me?”, and describing how the change will impact friends and trusted colleagues.

American futurist Marilyn Ferguson said, “It’s not so much that we’re afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it’s that place in between that we fear…. It’s like being between trapezes. It’s Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There’s nothing to hold on to.” By engaging the head, hands, and heart, you are giving employees the courage they need to let go of the old, embrace the new, and commit to doing things differently.