Innovation implementation and resistance to change

by | Aug 27, 2019 | Digital Transformation

One way or another, every company is tackling innovation to adapt to technological changes, find new ways to deliver value and ultimately, gain competitive advantage.

Each company is on the lookout for people, knowledge, tools, and methodologies that will support them in this journey. Nonetheless, there is an important aspect that may jeopardize the implementation of the project even though you have chosen the best tools and have enough resources; this is resistance to change.

Resistance to change is present among various actors. Upper and middle management, staff, partners, and of course, end-users/clients (remember when we talked about the people’s factor of digital transformation?). This article explores the reasons for resistance and what are the most critical implementation triggers you should focus on.


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Looking at people’s basic needs is a way to understand resistance to change and innovation.
Based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (psychology motivation theory), we can easily understand why a disruptive change, or an innovation challenging the foundation of one’s activity, encounters resistance. Let’s take two specific needs (that generate deficiency when unmet):

1. Basic need: security and safety
2. Psychological need: prestige and feeling of accomplishment

Innovation troubles the inner need for security of customers (also valid for staff and management) because it changes something that they already had assimilated into their environment. A new stimulus triggers the gatekeepers of our minds, requiring us to have an opinion about it, unlearn something that was already automated, and re-learn how to do it differently. Even in the case where it is for the best (safer, more efficient, more comfortable use), people still have to put some energy into it. And I mean, the smallest effort is already something for our lazy selves.

Transformation programs challenge the psychologic needs of prestige and accomplishment of middle management and staff. Put in simple; people might interpret (consciously or not) that you are telling them that what they are doing right now is not enough, or not good enough.

So, what if we look more into the reasons and manifestations of resistance.

1. Middle management feels threatened and challenged:

there is this archaic belief that the boss is the one having all the ideas. Encourage employees to share their suggestions and middle management could interpret that (again, consciously or not) as rivalry

2. Fear of failure and judgment:

people are committed to the status quo in cultures that are punishing failures more than rewarding successes. Innovation is about iteration, test and learn, fail and improve. You must teach and show your team that it is OK to take risks

3. Fear of being replaced:

improving processes means cutting off nonvalue adding tasks. In some cases, it means that people will have to perform the task differently or learn new skills to upgrade their role to something adding more value.

4. Conformity and continuity:

often, managers tend to perform better at linear and analytical thinking than at creative activities. They might prefer more traditional managerial tasks, and this is partly due to how higher education trains them.

5. Wish to see tangible results first:

this would be the “chicken or egg first” dilemma. Companies have little flexibility and are striving to lower risk and secure successes. Therefore, proofs of concept are increasingly essential to convince the decision-maker that a change will indeed be valuable.

Which actions to take?

Proof of concepts:

in the era of big data, there are many ways to predict the effects of a particular change accurately. Also, running a proof of concept is invaluable to verify an idea in its real conditions. Put your teams at work on the Olympe platform will bring you an unbeatable time-to-market. Everything they are doing/testing is live, for direct feedback and rapid iteration.

Implementation procedure:

think ahead. For your project to be completed, you need to have a (company-wide) standardized process for the implementation once the right people approve the proof of concept. Who will you hand the project to for execution, who will grant access to X or Y resources, which additional hidden decision-makers will the project have to convince…?

Adaptable, scalable:

we should face innovation as a tsunami, but rather as the observation and monitoring of the waves continuously breaking on the shore. Put differently; innovation is not a one-time big transformation project, but rather a routine mindset. Therefore, companies need versatile tools with which a project can be quickly reopened, modified, scaled.

The Olympe platform is not technically solving resistance to innovation overnight (what could?), but it provides a clear path:

It lowers barriers to innovation:

It lowers drastically the costs of trying to build things, validating concepts / PoCs in days (no need to engage in costly projects from the start and writing specs for months). Start small and iterate.

It fosters collaboration:

It helps to work and play as a team between different skillsets (Business, UI/UX, Sofware developers, Architects,..) on ONE platform. No place for misinterpretation, one language, Business finally understand developers and vice-versa.

It removes the fear of failure:

By being agile by design platform, trial and errors at near-zero cost are part of the methodology to success. At the end of the day, “fail fast” is a feature.

It gratifies of immediate results

(“real-time”) with a clear path from prototype to production, and therefore empower teams show tangible value for the long term to top management teams.

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