Overcoming Organizational Resistance to Change: Success Criteria are NOT a Secret

This is the second post in a four-part series that discusses strategies and tactics for overcoming resistance to organizational change in the public sector. The third installment will be posted in the coming weeks. Presented below is an analysis of initiative success criteria and metrics; specifically, how these success metrics and criteria can be a useful tool for overcoming organizational resistance to change.

Read the first installment here: Gauging, Steering Executive Support


Whether it’s due to the old adage “under-promise, over-deliver”, or due to a general fear of being held accountable for an unsuccessful effort, initiative teams often avoid sharing information regarding initiative success criteria and success metrics. This avoidance tendency contributes to failure.


There is no better conduit for placating hostility and engaging stakeholders (two accomplishments critical to overcoming organizational resistance to change) then the socialization of success criteria and success metrics.

Time and time again, initiative teams make a critical blunder in socializing and promoting awareness of the business transformation initiative: They focus on the “what” rather than the “why”. A one hour meeting to socialize the effort results in 50 minutes of “in the weeds” details about the new process(es) and approximately five minutes explaining the initiative’s purpose. This is not merely an hour wasted, but a counterproductive hour.  An effective one hour presentation structure would entail:

  • 10 minutes discussing the needs analysis
  • 10-15 minutes explaining at a high level the key characteristics of the initiative
  • 15 minutes presenting the team’s definition of success, its prerequisites, risks, and metrics
  • 20-25 minutes of open floor discussion and feedback solicitation from stakeholders

Stakeholders can and should help define success. By encouraging and incorporating stakeholders’ ideas about what constitutes success, as well as how it should be measured and achieved, the initiative champion makes significant progress in overcoming resistance to change:

(1)    Fostering consensus as to what success is and how it can be achieved suppresses the notion that the initiative is impractical or unachievable.

(2)    Establishing consensus creates shared ownership of the initiative’s outcome; (“The initiative did not succeed because we as an organization did not properly identify the risks and pursued an overambitious goal”). Without engaging the stakeholders in defining success, failure is placed squarely on the shoulders of the initiative team.

(3)    Engaging Stakeholders - the stakeholders aren’t being told what to do rather they are shaping key aspects of the business transformation initiative. This engagement spurs a genuine desire amongst stakeholders to see the initiative succeed.

Instead of operating in a clandestine environment where “success” is an ambiguous pursuit, an initiative team should let stakeholders help define success and its prerequisites. This allows the team time to focus on the details of the transformation rather than trying to gain buy-in from skeptical employees. Furthermore, the candor and frankness displayed by the initiative team in discussing initiative risks and potential pitfalls effectively disarms stakeholder hostility. Per the old proverb: “You get what you give”.