User Resistance is a Judgment, Not an Action

Updated: May 19, 2010

The term "user resistance" has become a vague concept - a convenient short-hand of sorts - that is used to justify poor user adoption. Implicit in this term are the ideas that 1.) user adoption is solely at the discretion of the end-user and 2.) if the end-user does not adopt your system it is an act of defiance. If you accept this to be true, it follows that the responsibility for overcoming user resistance lies completing at the feet of the end-user. This just isn't true.

In a previous blog entry on leadership, I shared the quote, "We judge others by their actions, but we judge ourselves by our intentions." When discussing user resistance it is very important to recognize that we observe discrete actions (user behaviors), but it is not until we assign our judgment that they become "user resistance". When we judge an action to be "user resistance" it has serious implications:

  • It blames the user. By shifting responsibility for IT adoption from the implementation & management team to the end-user, we have created a convenient scapegoat if the system is deemed a failure.
  • It helps us save face. By focusing all the attention on the users, we don't need to examine where we might have done something wrong or lacked the skills to perform our jobs.
  • It creates blind-spots. Our approach to change management might have been inappropriate, and as a result we might have ignored barriers to adoption that fall outside the users' control. These organizational barriers could be what are preventing users from adopting the system.
  • It ignores root-causes & contributing factors. Focusing on user behaviors may cause us to miss other technical, organizational, functional, process, data, or other factors that prevent user adoption.

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