Adama Ibrahim on Embracing Change and Overcoming Resistance

March 6, 2024

By Irene Yeh 

March 6, 2024 | Change naturally happens everywhere. Yet, it is often met with resistance—sometimes even with outright hostility. But in an ever-evolving world, change is needed to inspire innovation and create new opportunities, and the biotech industry is no different. The question is, how do we overcome resistance? 

In the latest episode of Trends from the Trenches, host Stan Gloss and Adama Ibrahim, VP of Digital Strategy & Change Management at Novo Nordisk, discuss the challenges of initiating change and why it’s important to allow it to happen. Ibrahim also delves into the psychology of change resistance and shares techniques on how to encourage people to embrace change. 

Why is Change So Hard? 

To develop solutions to overcoming change resistance, we must first understand why change is so hard. The answer is both simple and complex. 

“It's human nature,” says Ibrahim. “The journey to change is exactly the same journey [as] coping with grief… Anger, disbelief, rejection, avoidance, denial, and then you go to acceptance. And then…you’re almost neutral and then you actually start to embrace change and adopt it.” 

Fundamentally, losing something familiar is a loss, and adapting to such a sudden change is a different process for everyone. Some can move on quickly, others need more time, and there are those who get stuck at certain parts of the cycle and they must be unstuck. But forcing people to go at a pace different than their own will not generate the desired progress. Instead, it will only be met with more resistance. In other words, people must want to change. 

But instigating change is almost “a double-edged sword,” where knowing change is difficult yet little is done to make it easier, according to Ibrahim. There seems to be a limited perspective on the other side’s experience. 

“Let’s say a new product is created and…put into the market,” explains Ibrahim. “We have not considered the end user, [and] we have not considered their journey when they are interacting with that software… And we've kind of assumed that we know what their problems are, and we've assumed that we can solve them because we are the experts of creating and building these technical complexities. And so, not having that customer mindset and customer view—and being able to fully be in line with the problem and the solution from the customer's point of view—makes change a lot harder.” 

How Do We Overcome Resistance? 

Because change resistance is a psychological human reaction, overcoming it requires methods that are related to human psychology. Ibrahim cited the ABCs of change: Antecedents, Behaviors, and Consequences. To begin the process, there needs to be an antecedent—a previous issue or event that will spark the desire for change. 

“If we create the environment that really drives people toward the behavior or away from a behavior, that’s step one,” says Ibrahim. She then explains that when people are in an environment that is different from their old one—and therefore nudges them toward the direction of change—the next step is incentivized behavior. However, simply telling people what to do is not actually an effective method. There needs to be a degree of effort on the individual’s part, “that makes them feel that they are connecting” with the process toward change. 

“It’s just thinking about what it is that we need to create that gives people this delightful user experience,” says Ibrahim. “Sometimes, you go with taking away the burden and the hurdles and the frictions, and sometimes, you insert frictions that are actually pleasurable that are actually reinforcing this validation.”  

After the incentives have been implemented, the third and final step is the consequences of the behavior, which leads to the adoption of this new behavior. 

While change can be scary, it is a natural phenomenon that is always occurring around the world. And though human beings may naturally resist it, they are also capable of adapting behaviors that will allow them to thrive in new conditions and environments. Every person goes at their own pace, but by bravely embracing change, we are allowing new opportunities and innovation that will lead toward a brighter, better future. 

“The more we accelerate our adoption of this new world…I think the better it will be for everyone,” comments Ibrahim. “I’m on a journey myself, and I think it’s one of those situations that we will never stop learning.”