System Factors for Managing Resistance to Change

There’s nothing worse: You’ve implemented an improvement and it is running into resistance. This unwillingness to adopt the new way (resistance to change) is like a tug of war – who will win out?

As the project leader, you may feel that resistance represents the team’s unwillingness to accept change, but oftentimes, this is not the whole picture. Your leadership skills here can make or break the end result of the project.


In many cases, an employee’s unwillingness makes up only a small percentage of the resistance that our improvements are encountering. There are three different types of employees who may be balking:

  • The Unwilling – Not willing to commit to the new way.
  • The Unable – Not equipped with the skills to perform the new way.
  • The Unaware – Not understanding why the change is necessary.


In a recent Lean Professional virtual training session, we were discussing how the six system factors can help project leaders manage resistance and lock in the new process. By considering all six of the system factors, we can holistically assess our team’s efforts in adequately managing the change and eliminating all three types of resistance. Let’s take a closer look at these factors.

Vision – Communicating the reasons for the change as well as what the change will be. It is important that the vision provides a clear understanding of the process all the way through to the end. Communicating the vision should begin as early as possible to help mitigate resistance driven by unawareness.

Accountability – Establishing the obligation of the process owners and key stakeholders to accept responsibility and account for adopting and sustaining the new process.

Right People – Ensuring that the process owners and stakeholders are capable and committed to adopting and sustaining the change.

Skills Development – Identifying the new skills that will be needed to perform and manage the new process, developing the materials and job aids, and executing the training. This factor is focused on making sure that the team is able and confident in doing their work the new way.

Rewards and Recognition – Identifying ways to recognize and reward process owners and key stakeholders for adopting and sustaining the new way. It is important to identify both informal and formal ways of rewarding and recognizing them.

Measures, Processes, and Policies – Standardizing the new process by establishing standard operating procedures, scorecards, job descriptions, and other documentation to ensure the new way is locked in.

It is important to remember that change management cannot begin at the point of implementing the improvements. We need to start early and often with leveraging the system factors in order to proactively avoid resistance.

Are you ready to improve your leadership skills, learn more about the six system factors, and become effective at managing resistance to change? Acuity Institute has a new course available – Change Management Foundations.  In this program, you will learn the foundations of change management and the six system factors and will be introduced to Acuity Institute’s Change Management Roadmap. If you are looking for more extensive change management training, Acuity offers our Change Management Professional Certification. This program is designed to provide change leaders with the tools and skills to initiate change in a project environment. Our program delivers best practices for both tactical and behavioral elements of change from leading experts in a practical and simple way. It demystifies change by providing a superior interactive Change Management Toolkit, which leads practitioners through all phases of the change management process.