Carrot 2.0 | 15 Tactics To Navigate The Resistance To Change Minefield


Winston Churchill was a creature of habit.

His habits rarely changed over the course of his career, even as the country went through great upheaval and change during the war years when he was Prime Minister.

Take a typical day… Churchill would wake up at 7.30 and stay in bed, eating a very large breakfast whilst reading his letters and newspapers.

At 11.00 he would get up, have a bath and take a turn around the garden.  He would then pour a weak whisky and soda, go into his study where he would work for an hour.

At 1.00, he would have lunch with his wife, Clementine, have a glass of Champagne, followed by a glass of brandy and a cigar. After lunch (around 3.30), he would return to work for 1.5 hours.

At 5.00 he would take a siesta and then wake up at 6.30, take another bath and take dinner at 8.00. When dinner finished, no doubt following some lively debate (at around midnight), he would return to his study for another hour of work.

These habits, he repeated, day in, day out, for years. These helped him get in the change zone.

Churchill was a change-master;  he thrived on change.

And when the country was at war, he knew that he would have to overcome resistance – both on the battlefield and in the hearts and minds of the people to the potential changes that lay ahead.

Churchill even had a personal catchphrase – “Keep Buggering On” which was sometimes abbreviated to “KBO”. And although he didn’t actually write the words for the now famous “Keep Calm and Carry on” poster, I don’t think it is a huge leap to see how he may have inspired and influenced the author of this poster.


Although never used, this poster came to symbolise a message that great change was coming and everyone had a part to play in the change.

Anticipating and neutralising resistance to change is one of the key areas to get right as part of a change, improvement or engagement project.

Getting it right is a minefield.

I know its not particularly fashionable to consider ‘carrots’ and ‘sticks’ as forms of motivation (Daniel Pink’s book Drive provides great new thinking here) – but – they act as perfect metaphors for how we can address resistance to change.

So, with this in mind, when it comes to thinking about approaches to resistance to change, consider these questions…

  • What carrots should you use?
  • What sticks are appropriate?
  • What carrot and sticks can be used together?
  • Who do you give carrots to?
  • When should you use a carrot or a stick?
  • How many carrots do you give out?
  • How big is the stick?
  • Who holds the stick?
  • Should you lend the stick to anyone?
  • Do people see you holding both a carrot and a stick at the same time?
  • How do you differentiate the right times to use a carrot or a stick?
  • What if people don’t respond to a carrot or a stick?
  • The list goes on…

To get through the resistance minefield, you need a plan. This will ensure the change ‘sticks’ and in turn allows the gains to be locked in.  The organisation, its employees and its customers will all benefit from the change.

Welcome to Carrot 2.0!

To build a plan and get a snapshot of potential areas or resistance can be done in the second 52 Minute Habit in a session which I’ve called ‘The Change Comfort Check-up’.

This is all about understanding the level of comfort people who you will work with on the change and how resistant they may be to the change ahead. It’s about assessing what kind of carrot they want.

I want to channel the Churchill spirit and assess from a neutral point of view where I’ve seen potential areas of resistance and provide an opportunity to create strategies to address each one. I’ve used the word comfort on purpose.

I’m not suggesting people need to be tap dancing with excitement over the change (although from an employee’s engagement angle that would be brilliant) but ensuring people are in the “comfort zone” ensures they aren’t in the “resistance zone” where real damage can be caused.

The change comfort check-up can be used before and during a project. It’s worth using it throughout your project as a way of scoring how comfortable the key people on your project are behaving. It can help signal if you need to take any corrective action.

So, try this. Set aside 52 minutes, grab a pen, print off 4 copies of the Change Comfort Check-up (attached at the bottom of this blog), find a quiet space and follow these steps. (Note, weak whiskey and soda optional).

In my experience, there are 4 key groups that need particular focus. These are;

The Business Owner. This person actually owns the area where there is an issue that you want to get fixed. You need to get as close as you can to the business owner to understand what they really want to get out of this project. Your goal is to stand in their shoes and to understand clearly what ‘good looks like from this project’.  If the project doesn’t give them what they need, they may well cause resistance by not supporting delivery of the project.

The Sponsor. This could well be the Business Owner, but often is someone who could be in their management team or a peer who is asked to be sponsor. You need to get them to help you get the project ‘over the line’. You need to help them understand what you need from them to help you – they need to clearly understand their role as a sponsor.

People Directly Impacted by the Change. This could be such as large group you may well need to chunk this down, but try to keep it at one level to start with. Understanding who will be directly impacted by the change and how they may respond is going to be fundamental to get right.  I would suggest a couple of strategies here to get this; can you locate to the area where they are located? (or do so once a week?)  Can you get involved in team meetings to see the dynamic of the team in action? Who do you know in your network in the business who could provide this information? The more you can start to feel and empathise how the team work and tick the better.

Project Team Members. Think that your team members are all going to be supportive?  Think again. They may have been assigned to the project with no wish to be on it. Often you may find that people who are impacted by the change are on your project.  They could silently torpedo and sabotage the project; they may want to secretly maintain the status quo on the inside while outwardly saying they are right behind the project; good times!  You need to keep very close to these people.


So these are the big 4 groups that can cause resistance – both by design and inadvertently.  They all need a strategy to anticipate and neutralise the resistance.

To do this I suggest focusing on 4 key questions to ask yourself. Any more and you risk overloading yourself. You will have 13 minutes for each area to get through the assessment, so not much time to hand around. When you are going through each question, put the first thing that comes into your head. Try to act as neutral as possible.  Where you may need more data, make a note to look into this further.

Once you have completed the whole sheet, you will have the start of a change neutralisation plan. You can then use this to understand where the largest areas of resistance are likely to be and what you need to do to start to overcome – and neutralise- them.

Here are the 4 key questions:

1. How could this change impact them – both positively and negatively?

2. What could they fear as a result of the change?

3. What kind of things could they do to cause resistance?

4. What actions need to be taken to keep them comfortable? Each group will be quite different and will require different approaches. All change is situational – on the project, programme, organisation, impact etc.

You will need to define what works best for you, but the main theme here is to gauge the level of resistance to change and then plan what you can do about it.

These are often the ‘hard miles’ of a change project.

To help support the comfort plan, here are 15 Habit Tactics that I have used to help neutralise resistance.

Of course the best tactic to neutralise resistance is not to have any in the first place! 🙂

1. Ok, to kick things off, it’s important to try to gauge and predict the behaviour of the person or people where you could face resistance.  There are many approaches to do this – one that I recommend is the DISC approach.  This brilliant video provides a good overview on the predicability of people.

2. Invest as much time as you can before the project has even begun to understand the key wants, fears and potential flash points of resistance from each group. If you can use your network in the business to work on potential challenges, you will save time in the long run.

3. Get a weekly meeting or call in with your sponsor – keep close to them. If they have a weekly update report they need to write, help write the project update for them.

4. If someone is not playing ball, take them for a coffee and have a grown up conversation with them. Enquire what is happening. Call their behaviour out. They may not realise what they are doing.

5.Don’t be afraid to call out repeated resistance to the sponsor – get it nipped in the bud early and escalate.

6. If you have a transition of people in roles – such as the business owner or sponsor – ensure you organise a transition plan to maintain the pace of the project.

7. If you have someone in your project who likes to take over meetings – such as taking discussions off on tangents, ‘forget’ agreements that have been previously made or appear to be constantly arguing with other members of the team – there are a few things you can try. Ensure you have robust meeting agendas and keep clear minutes from meetings which records agreements and circulate quickly after meetings.

8. Be careful how you use change and improvement terms. Try to make them ‘real world’ and avoid jargon.  Try to reassure people while you go through early stages of change and use terms like “let’s add draft approach” to this slide or “data health warning – validation required” for any critical analysis or findings.  People can get twitchy and this can help reassure them.

9. Create an internal blog that highlights the successes of the project. Share what the goal of the project is about, share highlights and challenges the team are facing, ask the business to support them. Share anecdotes. Put in pictures from meetings. Make the team look good.

10. Send a brief weekly update on the project that includes all of the above groups, to maintain a team approach. Create an infographic that outlines in an attractive way the challenge that this project will address.

11. If feasible, talk to customers (whether they are external or internal) that may be impacted by the project. Use this “voice of the customer” in meetings to remind people how important the project is.

12. If department or company meetings come up, see this as a great marketing opportunity for the project – think engagement. Consider making a short film using your smart phone and interview people on the project that you can post on an internal website or play in a team meeting. People tend to like videos more than PowerPoints and is a good way to engage people.

13. For people impacted by the change, regular communication is key, even if you have nothing specific to say about the change at that point. Consider having key people impacted by the change as ambassadors on the project so thy feel like they own the change.

14. Consider drawing an Influence map to sketch out who knows who and their releant influencing relationships. Knowing who influences who is a key success factor in successful change. You could even involve your project team in this and ask a couple of the team to complete one and then compare notes.

15. If you are trying to get to the root cause of resistance, and preparing for a discussion with someone who has been resistant, it’s key to stand in their shoes to try to understand why they are being this way. Take a “what’s in it for me” approach to try to understand what could help with resolving the issue.

Last Thing. Make sure you keep the Comfort Change Checkup discrete, you do not want this hanging around for anyone to stick their beaky nose into; without positioning the document appropriately it could cause you a headache!

Habit #2 - The 52 Minute Change Comfort Checkup

Click this link to download a PDF of the Change Comfort Checkup Worksheet. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s