Message from Your Chapter President - February 2021

Overcoming Resistance to Change

Have you ever had trouble describing your profession? In the 90s sitcom 'Friends', no one understood what Chandler Bing did for a living. After four seasons, in a high stakes trivia game to decide who gets the big apartment, no one could come up with the answer. They still had no idea even after Chandler described his job as an IT procurements manager specializing in statistical analysis and data reconfiguration.

The "BABOK® Guide" (1) describes business analysis in Section 1.2 as “… the practice of enabling change in an enterprise by defining needs and recommending solutions that deliver value to stakeholders. Business analysis enables an enterprise to articulate needs and the rationale for change, and to design and describe solutions that can deliver value.”

I like the phrase 'enabling change'. When an enterprise has a need, we enable the change.

  • We are agents of change
  • We meet needs
  • We deliver value

Hang on...if there's a clear need and we can enable the change and deliver something valuable, why is there resistance to change? If you look at most project risk registries, there's one common entry in all of them: the risk that there will be a lack of stakeholder adoption - resistance to change.

Psychologists tell us that resistance to change is normal. Agnesia Agrella of Symetize Ltd. spoke with the IIBA® Brussels Chapter in December. (2) Agnesia is a Business Architect who facilitates change in businesses. In the presentation, she posed the questions, "Why is change so difficult?". Change is like stepping into the dark. We have no previous experience to guide us, no matching neural pathways to follow. It takes time to build new pathway so, in the meantime we move to survival mode: 'Fight, Flight or Freeze'. It is our normal reaction whenever we face change. The extent to which we experience it may differ but it is always there.

We understand that resistance to change is normal, even inevitable, so how do we mitigate it? One common approach is to have all of the reasons for the change clearly articulated so that the stakeholders can see the importance of addressing the need, understand the change and how it will address the need. But that doesn't always work. The stakeholders still exhibit resistance.

Then we appeal to the sponsor to mandate the change. The logic being if the stakeholders know this is going to happen with or without them, then they'll have to stop resisting. That doesn't always work either. Instead, the resistance simply goes underground, creating resentment and frustration.

If logic doesn't work and a big stick doesn't work, where do we turn? It boils down to emotion. We all have a right brain and a left brain, logic and emotion which are sometimes in conflict. Jonathan Haidt is a Social Psychologist who uses a metaphor of a rider and an elephant to describe this conflict. (3) Dan Heath describes this metaphor in this video (4) In summary, the rider knows the reason for the journey and the path is visible. As long as the elephant trusts the rider, the elephant will follow the rider's lead down the path. But if the elephant is fearful, nothing the rider can do will budge the elephant. The rider represents our logical side, the elephant is our emotional side. Our emotional side is more powerful. If our stakeholders are experiencing predominantly fear of survival, then no amount of reason or threats are going to help them. They may fully agree with the logic and still feel resistance. Their fear needs to be replaced with trust. Reason won't overcome fear, but reason will support trust. If trust is established, then reason will enhance and encourage success.

Business Analysts are in a unique position to handle all 3 elements in this metaphor:

  1. We understand: the rider, the reason for the change, the need;
  2. We course the path with our recommended solution;
  3. Finally, we spend time and interact with our stakeholders which gives us the perfect opportunity to 'nurture the elephant' - to build trust.

In Section 9.2, the "BABOK® Guide" (1) explains that "The core competencies of behavioural characteristics focus on the skills and behaviours that allow a business analyst to gain the trust and respect of stakeholders."
Building trust is about building relationships. Building relationships includes having empathy for your stakeholders. Resistance should not be confused with refusal, it's really fear. There may be legitimate concerns. Let's take the time to gather those concerns and address them. Listening and acting is what builds relationships and stakeholders trust. Trust is the way to overcome the resistance to change.

What does a business analyst do?

  • We listen to stakeholders;
  • help them embrace change, and;
  • help enterprises to get there!

Mike Jones,

(1)  "A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge® (BABOK® Guide)"
(2)  IIBA® Brussels Chapter. (2020, December 17) How to tackle businesses' biggest challenge: Resistance to change and employee performance by Agnesia Agrella [Video]. YouTube.
(3)  Jonathan Haidt. (2021, February 2). In Wikipedia:
(4) Heath, Dan. (2014, July 9) The Rider, the Elephant and the Path Narrated by Dan Heath [Video]. Vimeo.