A Sure-Fire Way to Create Resistance

What happens when good intentions go off the rails.


A mid-sized department (about 50 people) with global responsibilities for a several million dollar portfolio got together to plan their activities for the coming year. The starting point for this conversation was a set of five goals that had been set by the top leadership of the organization. The idea was to create cascading goals throughout the institution, based on these superordinate five.

The people in this department were to create strategies and work plans based on what they knew about their business and what they had been learning from each other during the previous two days of conversation.

So far so good.

I was surprised by the intensity of the resistance I saw in all the groups trying to complete their plans. Both substance and format were being subjected to withering criticism almost immediately. Even the department head, unfailingly positive in most situations, saw the futility in what they were doing. And that was after she spent the better part of the weekend trying to do something with the sow’s ear she had been given by her senior management.

Her comment to me: “We just have to do it.”

The issue was that the goals provided by the top were not connected to the work of this department and they couldn’t be made to connect in any meaningful way.

What really made this so unreasonable was that the organization’s leadership went far beyond specifying a direction for business activity and instead prescribed tasks and targets that were meant to be applicable across the enterprise.

Talk about an exercise in futility.

So, rather than engendering commitment and alignment, which I’m sure was the intent, leadership created the exact opposite effect, resulting in an enormous waste of resources and loss of goodwill.

I found this to be an object lesson in how not to win support for a new idea: no input was sought from those who would be responsible for the doing; the process was too directive with no recourse when obstacles were hit; and there was no flexibility in making it work, only one way to do it.

Nearly all the energy that day was spent on resisting, breeding cynicism, and finally meager compliance. I’m the last one to run from resistance; I’ve learned to expect it whenever something new is happening. But, I also think you shouldn’t be doing things that pretty much guarantee extra doses of it.

What do you think?