Five strategies to use when the rebellion comes

Sometimes there's good reason to resist change. However, other people may not feel the same way. Here's what to do when they all get together and you're faced with a grassroots rebellion.

Sometimes there's good reason to resist change. However, other people may not feel the same way. Here's what to do when they all get together and you're faced with a grassroots rebellion. 


Previously I mentioned that one way to overcome resistance in the face of change is by getting together a group of like-minded people and forming a grassroots rebellion. It can be an effective method to steamroller roadblocks, but what do you do when you are the roadblock that needs to be steamrolled? In that case, there are a few tactics you can employ.

Start by remembering why

The first thing to remember is that there is a reason for why you're currently doing things. More often than not, the policies, procedures, and technologies being used are in place based on the careful assessment of business needs. While these decisions were being made, and in the time since then, usually other ideas and alternatives have been taken into consideration. It's very rare that important business decisions are made arbitrarily.

After the investment of all the time and energy to get things up and going, you don't necessarily want to abandon them and go in another direction without a lot of careful consideration. When new ideas are offered as a crisis, and in the midst of a group rebellion, generally not all the variables have been considered. This is especially true when passion and emotion get mixed in with the arguments.

Although it's easy to get stuck in a rut doing the same thing over and over, don't fall into the trap that you have to make a change to things just because you're faced with a group that demands it.

What to do when confronted by an angry mob

Chances are there won't be people standing at your office door with torches and pitchforks, but resisting change in the face of a group is difficult. With some carefully considered strategies you can deflect the calls for change or at least harness them to your benefit.

Crack down

This is a strategy that works only in tightly controlled organizations. Employing it can lead to backlash and disrupt employee morale. You certainly don't want to try it in a situation where you don't have the final say or have power to back up your refusal.

With this strategy you're employing a flat out "No!" to whatever change is being offered. You may or may not justify your decision by pointing out precedent and relevant policy and procedure. In any case, the issue isn't up for debate. And you're quite clear in saying so.

Embrace and extend

This strategy was made famous by Bill Gates. Often when faced with new technologies or standards that threatened Microsoft's dominance, it would first embrace the change and get behind it. Then Microsoft would move to "extend" the technology by adding enough proprietary elements to it, so it gained an advantage. Think Internet Explorer after Microsoft was confronted with the Internet in the late 90s.

When employing this strategy, you acknowledge the basis for the need for change. You may also acknowledge some of the solutions offered. But, once you do that, you "extend" the change. Ideally, you'll co-opt it enough to lessen the impact of it to the organization or enough to claim it as your own.

Redirect and refocus

This strategy is popular for anyone who has a toddler who likes to get into trouble. It's equally effective with employees and coworkers.

With this strategy, you basically ignore the changes offered by the group and try to change the debate. You take the energy and passion of the group and refocus it in other areas. For example, if a group really wants to start deploying Macs in the business over Windows, you can attempt to redirect the focus of the group into a general discussion of other alternatives as well, such as Linux, thin clients, and so on. Eventually, the passion may dwindle out or the group can be channeled to affect change other than what they initially intended.

Defer it

With this strategy, you're attempting to take advantage of the limited attention span that people sometimes have. Rather than just flat out saying "No," you instead choose to "study" the proposal and give it "serious consideration." As you know, this takes time -- sometimes a lot of time.

The additional time can be your friend for several reasons:

  • The agents of change may lose interest.
  • New technologies may come along that make the point moot.
  • Other viable alternatives or defendable reasons to reject the change might surface.

Demagogue it

This is a strategy to employ only when you know that the change is needed and that the movement is sure to succeed. Here you're not blocking the call for change at all. You're trying to get out in front of the change and, if necessary, become its leading proponent. At this point, you're basically acknowledging that resistance is futile and you want to come out as good as possible whenever everything's said and done.

The bottom line for IT leaders

If implementing change is hard, preventing change can be even harder. Being an IT leader means doing both. Preventing change is most difficult when you're faced with a group of people who feel that they have a better way. Assess the situation and react accordingly. Maybe they have a better idea, maybe they don't. Chances are you can't squash the rebellion, so figure out the best course of action and handle it appropriately so as to not burn bridges.

Don't forget -- you are an IT leader, and as such you're paid to use your judgment, not just always go with the flow.


However, managers forget that the people that work for them are smart enough to see through this type of crap. The company I will call Bonehead corp. failed for two reasons, one their business model was flawed and their initial success lead them to believe they "knew what was best" and the other is the smart people banded together left and started their own company, I will call smartass inc., which is still doing well. When everyone disagrees with you it's usually time to listen.


Oddly, I really did expect some standard sarcasm, perhaps missing the sarcastic sentence at the end of each paragraph. Perhaps the author has suppressed feelings on the topic, come on now do tell us how you really feel. Joking aside, what is so difficult about listening, and engaging in earnest discussion? The tactics relayed here feel like tricks? If there are problems out there waiting for us and people are willing to identify those problems, what sort of arrogance does it take to ignore valuable information and worthy considerations of those actually doing their job? Is this why the failure rate for projects is so high? When a well thought out plan exists, it can also withstand or be improved by changes that meet the ever changing present reality. I will not say no! I will try to convince those offering the change to say no to their own suggestions, or I will end up being convinced by the weight of their logic and plan. Again, what is so difficult about listening and engaging? I found it to be mostly refreshing and rewarding. I thought listening and engaging was required when one believes that they as manager must remove barriers to other employee???s success in order to achieve those goals falling under our authority and control. Today I???ll criticize these tactics as arrogant, tomorrow I may call it something else, but I doubt that I will ever apply any positive label.

John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro
John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro

I already mentioned in Classics Rock that you can use a grassroots rebellion to effect change. But that leads to the question of what to do when you're at the other end of that rebellion. http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/decisioncentral/?p=131 I listed 5 strategies that should be effective in deflecting the mob. Can you think of anything else that might work?


I thought this was going to be about something else :D


Protective coloration, is all. You don't want to do this right out in front of God and everyone, do you?


Talk to the guy about Reality (and Perception) in the other thread. He seems to have it down to the point that he need not address the general.


Camouflage is fine and dandy, but is it possible to hide, in a single hiding, from God and everybody? edit rephrase

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