For many years I worked as someone who came into a company or organization which was in serious risk of going under. It seemed strange to me that almost without exception there was a significant resistance to making change / improvement in a culture that most all thought to be terminally sick.

Since I was the change agent I saw lots of resistance from these organizations that had become comfortable with their weak status quo.  After a few rounds I came to a personal conclusion that most of these struggling cultures fit a 5 – 5 – 90 model:

• Five percent of the people would do whatever they could to help me make the necessary improvements; the “developers.” 

•Five percent would do whatever they could to fight any changes; the “resisters.” 

•Ninety percent would go in and out with the tide as organizational ebb and flows occurred; just tell me what to do so I can do my work. 

This 90 percent group was a picture of sheep following whichever shepherd was in charge; and in the start the vocal, aggressive, negative group always had the upper hand in a weak organization with poor leadership. 

The vocal and aggressive “resisters” seemed to never let up. I once told my wife that I was like an elephant on a tightrope performing in a circus. The bad news was that there were people in the stands paid to snipe at me and that being a big target I took hits on a regular basis. The good news was that I had a thick skin and would keep relentlessly moving forward provided I kept my focus on the goals of what needed to be done.

It turned out that my efforts and scarce resources needed to be focused on working with the “developers” who were able to participate in actively digging us out of the poor performance holes. Most of my time needed to be spent leading the improvement efforts with those who would engage with me to do so, and I just had to put up with the incoming negative efforts of the “resisters.”

After about nine months of this approach, improvements took hold, performance improved and the culture began to make a notable shift. Quietly and methodically over time the “resisters” no longer had the upper hand. The 90-percent follower group began pushing back when told to resist change and slowly became advocates of improving the organization and its efforts. The needed sea change was visibly and palpably upon us when we engaged our people in focusing on and fixing what they knew to be wrong while we let the flak-throwers fade into the background.