Stop Fighting Human Nature in OCM and Start Leveraging It

Hacking Change Management: Part 2

Article Summary:
  • Resistance to change is human nature, and it may manifest as active or passive behaviors that reduce the speed to anticipated benefit
  • To successfully navigate change, creating engagement and reducing resistance are challenges that people must own themselves – Micro-managing change can take that away from them 
  • Gamification is a clever way to fight fire with fire, allowing another aspect of human nature to do business with the human propensity to resist change
A 6-Minute Read

[If you already read Hacking OCM Part 1, you can skip to the Common Problem]

What is your reaction when you hear about a hack? Maybe “hacker” elicits thoughts of a sinister group of computer experts in a fortified basement committing acts of espionage and cyberwarfare. Hacking is frequently associated with illegally gaining access to critical personal, organizational, or government information. Oh yes, and of course, dark hoodies. It’s obviously very cold in the basement.

It is not surprising that the term “hacker” often creates a feeling of apprehension. After all, we’ve recently seen some nefarious hacking hit quite close to home. Personal information of nearly 44% of the U.S. population was illegally obtained in May to July of 2017 when criminal hackers infiltrated the servers of Equifax, a consumer credit reporting agency1. The hackers gained access to data that enabled them to conduct identify theft on 145.5 million Americans.

Not all hackers, however, aim to steal data or create chaos. Many hackers leverage a hacking methodology to solve healthcare problems or cure diseases (biohacking), and improve environmental quality or rapidly innovate, test, and deploy new technology. These helpful hackers have also been called “hactivists.”

We are not here to argue the merit of hacking necessarily, but rather to consider that there are many times in life and business, especially when undergoing big change, when traditional methods no longer cut the mustard. All hackers, whether sinister or benevolent, are after rapid and disruptive results. In organizational change management, rapid and disruptive are the names of the game.

For the sake of this paper, we define hacking as solving complex, yet very common problems by leveraging nontraditional methods.

This is the first of a short series of articles in which we look at some examples of when my teams embedded “hacking” techniques into a transformation or project as part of our Organizational Change Management (OCM) processes. We see that, when the transformation, or OCM, leader becomes the lead hacker and champions the use of nontraditional techniques to lead change, we were able to rapidly pivot, overcome volatile challenges, and reach the desired state of operations more quickly.

Common Problem # 2: Engagement & Resistance Management

Problem Overview

We humans have a tough time with change. In fact, humans often push back against change, regardless of a population’s experience or maturity. At a macro-level, the combination of shifting demographics, stakeholder preferences, geopolitical turmoil, and emerging technologies leads to an unprecedented rate of complex change and volatility. There is a compounding effect leading to greater resistance when a change happens in our own environment for which we did not plan or for which we have limited flexibility in addressing.

Maybe resistance to change is an obvious human phenomenon, but the less obvious truth is how we resist change. Resistance is often not active.

Resistance may be seen as active or passive behaviors that reduce the speed to anticipated benefit. I have witnessed stakeholders, even key leaders, disengage with a change initiative (passive resistance) due to competing priorities, as discussed in the first part of this series, or due to a lack of motivation to change. Because of a lack of personal alignment with an enterprise change, I have also had to address stakeholders that were intentionally sabotaging the company (active resistance) to try to stop the change.

Real World Example

I was the lead on an initiative wherein our team was tasked with revamping Project Management processes and tools. We had great sponsorship – we met with executives biweekly via video conferences and face-to-face meetings. Our communication plan was tailored to deliver specific messages to impacted stakeholder groups throughout the implementation. We set up a robust Change Champion Network, had a Resistance Management plan, and had a Training Plan that was timed appropriately to deliver content to stakeholders before they were expected to move to the new process and tools.

End user adoption was a major concern on this initiative given the amount of resistance we encountered during early assessment of stakeholders. Forty champions were recruited to our Change Champion Network to manage resistance and engagement of the 600 impacted stakeholders. We were able to generate enthusiasm during kickoff of the project and our Change Champion Network. Despite the initial enthusiasm and sticking with our robust plans of engagement, communication, and resistance management, there was more resistance than expected. We used a readiness scorecard to identify and quantify pockets of resistance. The goal was to get each stakeholder group to score as high as possible across a specific set of questions. The results made it clear that some groups of stakeholders were much more resistant than others.

After closely evaluating the scorecard results with our Change Champions, we found that the more resistant stakeholder groups were assigned to Change Champions that were less engaged. Despite consistently engaging each Change Champion, levels of enthusiasm and engagement were drastically different.

A Hacker’s Approach

In terms of mindset and motivation, hackers (and hactivists) commonly have an insatiable desire to explore and seek adventure, often inviting and compelling others to join adventures. They have extreme curiosity and take on unique challenges, qualities that entice crowds.

For the sake of this paper, Crowdsourcing is defined as bringing together a confluence of forces to rapidly decompose a problem and identify several alternate solutions. For this solution, we define a Hackathon as the forum in which we can Crowdsource with a time limit of 4 hours.

Applying Hacks to our Real-World Example

A second pulse check (aka survey) during the initiative garnered scorecard results that were not very positive. We decided it was time to bring together our Change Champions in a Hackathon to Crowdsource potential solutions.

During our Hackathon, Change Champions revealed they did not feel challenged in their role. Many advised they were being “spoon fed” the talking points and engagement material. They did not feel like they had ownership or the authority to use their own creativity to generate meaningful engagement with their assigned stakeholder groups. As the Lead, I had taken away the ability for the Change Champions to explore and seek adventure. I had inadvertently taken away the challenge of creating engagement and reducing resistance when I micro-managed the change network. Humble pie sliced and eaten.

Flexible guidelines were given during the Hackathon, along with accountability to each Change Champion for managing the Readiness Scorecard for their assigned stakeholder groups. The Change Champions would be held accountable for getting their assigned stakeholders to higher numbers on the scorecard, rather than having that activity centralized within the core OCM team. (As a side note, not only was a Change Network something new for this organization, they had never seen OCM as a quantifiable metric which has been particularly helpful for many project, financial, and data oriented teams).

[Sample Scorecard]

Improving the scores became a new challenge and got the creative juices flowing. The Change Champions took it upon themselves to “gamify” the Readiness Scorecard. Getting the highest scores on the Scorecard meant winning to them…which translated to winning for my OCM team.  The inherent desire to win this game led to Change Champions leveraging the material we had created for the initiative, and requesting new items such as infographics and stakeholder specific personas and journeys that could be printed for strategic placement. The excitement of the Change Network cascaded to the impacted end users, creating a desire to engage with the initiative.

Offering unique challenges and opportunities inspired and engaged stakeholders such that the aggregated scorecard for all the stakeholder groups reached higher scores much faster than we had planned. This allowed us to launch some of the new processes ahead of schedule. Ultimately, the initiative came in under budget. The client spent less on training and transition activities due to the enhanced engagement and lower resistance following the reinvigorated Change Network.

Summary of Lessons Learned

Human nature can be an enemy or a friend during transformation and it’s up to those facilitating the change whether they will harness it or not. Whether it be active or passive, and whether it’s strident or minimal, resistance is often inevitable during times of significant change. This is human nature. Gamification is a clever way to fight fire with fire, allowing another aspect of human nature to do business with resistance to change. If facilitated correctly, transformation can become an adventure and a healthy competition, rather than an affront.

Summary: Hacking Engagement & Resistance
  • Utilize a Hackathon in which you can Crowdsource solutions leveraging your network of stakeholders to eliminate obstacles and encourage engagement
  • Offer unique challenges and opportunities that psychologically inspire and engage stakeholders


Stay tuned for Part 3 in our 3-Part “Hacking Change Management” series!
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About the Author

Kevin Smith is a Lead Consultant with Impact Makers. He has a proven track record of successfully creating and implementing governance structures related to Transformation, Project/Program Management and Organizational Change Management. Kevin has robust experience in managing multimillion dollar transformational and core programs while managing resources across multiple disciplines and geographic proximities.

Kevin has an insatiable desire to learn and continuously improve.

Knowing that the world is not static, and that every barrier can be penetrated, Kevin embraces opportunities to bring together a confluence of forces to seek out better ways of doing things. Kevin strives to create meritocratic cultures where competence is key, and the risk of failure does not impede innovation.


Weise, E. 2017, September 26. A Timeline of Events Surrounding the Equifax Data Breach. Retrieved from