Resistance to Change

Topics: BusinessDecision Making


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Last updated: October 6, 2019

Resistance to change may be categorized into three groups of factors (Mabin, Forgeson & Green, 2001): organizational, group and individual.

Organizational factors are caused by threats presented by unknown or unwelcome organizational structure and process change and threats induced by the environment inside or outside of the organization.Group cohesiveness and social norms under threat and participation in decision-making not properly attended would trigger resistance to change. Individual factors related to the personality impose different emotional reactions to change (Bernerth, 2004). Compared to the other factors, individual factors have been intensively researched (Cheng & Petrovic-Lazarevic, 2005a).An interesting approach to the individual factors comes from Harris (2002) who divides them into: Lip Service: Sabotage by Disregarding as an instrumental compliance in that in recognizing the legitimate authority of the hierarchy and the benefits of the continued employment, employees overtly and orally conform but covertly resist attempts to be subjugated; Prolonged Argument: Sabotage by Erosion involving the tenacious use of vociferous and protracted oral arguments upon all possible occasions to erode enthusiasm, support, or argument with the management-espoused change; Hijacking: Sabotage by Transformation where employees endeavour to transform the adopted change into something more acceptable to their function, or simply something more personally palatable; Scarcity Creation: Sabotage by Undermining including the purposeful behaviour of a more confrontational form; Direct Conflict: Sabotage by Battle reflecting extremely pronounced personal opposition to change that could result in resignation. The other approach emphasises eight distinctive phases through which people would likely to go through whenever they feel trapped in a change that they do not want but cannot control (Conner,1998; Cheng & Petrovic-Lazarevic, 2005b).

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These are: stability as a stage prior to any announcement to change; immobilization where shock is considered the initial reaction to a negatively perceived change; denial characterized by the inability to assimilate new information into the current frame of reference; anger followed by frustration and feelings of being hurt; bargaining indicating that people can no longer avoid confronting with the reality; depression expressed by an emotion stage in a form of resignation to failure, feeling victimized, a lack of emotional and physical energy, and disengagement from one’s work; testing with signal of acknowledgment of one’s limitation, the attempt to regain control, and the freeing oneself from the feelings of victimization and depression; and acceptance where people respond realistically, are more grounded and productive relative to the previous phases within the new context The odds of successful change management depend on numerous influential factors: methodological determinants, the complexity of change and social aspects.These aspects are dominant and comprise: top manager commitment and open communication [Ringer 1998], social culture [Hofstede 1980] and employees’ reaction to change, especially resistance [Carnall 1990; Burnes 1992; Coulson-Thomas 1992; Kotter 1996]. Cultural Catalysts and Barriers of Organizational Change… 28 Organizational members’ reactions to change vary depending on the character of transformation and the value that people place on satisfying different individual needs [Carnall 1990]. Individuals or groups can react very differently to change: from passively resisting it, silencing its advocates, refusing to engage in joint problem-solving, refusing to seek common ground, sabotaging, and aggressively trying to undermine it, to sincerely embracing it [Kotter, Schlesinger 2008; Agocs 1997, p. 45].

Resistance to change is customary mentioned in management literature as an inevitable consequence of organizational change initiatives and listed among the most crucial inertial forces against any transformation [Carnall 1990;Burnes 1992; Coulson-Thomas 1992; Kotter 1996]. Because the future is often uncertain in terms of change, people in general are not motivated to change unless there are compelling reasons to do so [Bouckenooghe, Devos, van den Broeck 2009, p. 559, p. 41] and the destination state to which the organization moves is indeed beneficial to individuals and the whole organization. Therefore, any change attempts encounter resistance. Peter Senge [2006] states that “People don’t resist change.

They resist being changed”. Employees’ resistance to change is attributed to various causes including habit and inertia [Agocs 1997, p. 45].

It stems also from change as such (e. g. mpediments related to undertaking the transformation); from fear of the unknown and anxiety [Baron 1990; Czerska 1996; Griffin 1996] resulting from individual perception of consequences of the change process, such as absence of the skills they will need after the change, and losing power or position.

Although inertial forces constantly occur during the change process, adaptation will be successful when they are overcome. Because resistance is claimed to be a natural human response [Schein 1988] to “uncertainty, anxiety and ambiguity” inherent for a situation of change [Griffin 1996], attaining the organizational balance by “ensuring a tolerable level of environmental uncertainty, anxiety and ambiguity” [Ristino 2005/2006, p. 30] for organizational members seems to be a vital determinant of successful change management. .

Efforts at the Individual Level The management can use the following strategies to overcome resistance by the people and to introduce changes successfully: •Participation and Involvement: Individual will find it difficult to resist the change which they participated. Prior to making a change, all those persons who are going to the affected by the change, can be brought into the decision making process. Their doubts and objectives should be removed to win their cooperation. Getting opinions out in the open, so that they are looked at and evaluated is an important trust building task.This involvement of the workers can overcome resistance, obtain personal commitment and increase the quality of the change decisions. But this method may lead to a lot of time consumption as well as it may be a potential for poor solutions. •Effective Communication: Inaccurate information can be a reason for the resistance to change. An appropriate communication program can help in overcoming this resistance.

Workers can give necessary education about the change, its process and its working through training class, meeting and conferences. The reasons about change must be communicated very clearly and without ambiguity. Communication can help dissipate some fear of unknown elements.Management should also see that there is a two way communication between the management and workers so that the so former comes to know about the reactions of the latter directly without delay. All this will help persuade employees about the necessity of change and once persuaded they may actively want to have the change. •Facilitation and support: Change agents can offer facilitation and supportive efforts to overcome resistance. Facilitative support means removing physical barriers in implementing change by providing appropriate training, tools, machinery etc.

Supportive efforts include listening, providing guidance, allowing time off after a difficult period and providing emotional support. Emotional support is provided by showing personal concern to the employees during periods of stress and strain.The drawback of this method is that it is time consuming and expensive and its implementation offers no assurance of success. •Leadership: Leadership plays an important role in overcoming resistance to change.

A capable leader can reinforce a climate of psychological support for change. Greater the prestige and credibility of the person who is acting as a change agent, the greater will be the influence upon the employees who are involved in the change process. A strong and effective leader can exert emotional pressure on his subordinates to bring about the desired change. Most of the times, there is no resistance from the subordinates and if they resist, the leader tries to overcome resistance by leadership process. Negotiation and Agreement: Negotiation and Agreement technique is used when costs and benefits must be balanced for the benefit of all concerned parties. If people or groups are losing something significant in the change and if they have enough power to resist strongly. Negotiation before implementation can make the change go much more smoothly, even if at the later stages if some problems arise, the negotiated agreement can be referred to. •Manipulation and Co-optation: This method is used in the situation, where other methods are not working or are not available.

Managers can resort to manipulation of information, resources and favors to overcome resistance.Or they can resort to co-optation which means to co-opt an individual, perhaps a key person with in a group, by giving him a desirable role in designing or carrying out the change process. This technique has some doubtful ethics and it may also backfire in some cases. •Coercion: Managers may resort to coercion if all other methods fail or for some reason are inappropriate. Coercion may be in form of explicit or implicit threats involving loss of jobs, lack of promotion and the like. Managers sometimes dismiss or transfer employees who stand in the way of change. Coercion can seriously affect employee’s attitudes and have adverse consequences in the long run. •Timing of Change: Timing of introduction of change can have a considerable impact on the resistance.

The right time will meet less resistance.Therefore, management must be very careful in choosing the time when the organizational climate is highly favorable to change. An example of right time is immediately after a major improvement in working conditions.

2. Efforts at the Group Level A group is a cluster of persons related in some way by common interests over a period of time. Members of the group interact with each other and develop group cohesiveness among themselves. That is why although change can be obtained individually; it is more meaningful if it is done through group.

Therefore, management should consider the group and not the individual as the basic unit of change. Group dynamics offer some basic help in the regard.Darwin Cartwright has identified the following characteristics of group as a means of overcoming resistance to change: •If both the change agent and the people target for change belong to the same group, the role of group is more effective. •If the people have more cohesiveness and strong belonging to the group, change is easier to achieve.

•The more attractive the group is to the numbers, the greater is the influence of the group to accept or resist a change. •Group can exert pressure on those factors of the members which are responsible for the group being attractive to the members. Normally attitudes, values and behaviour are more common factors determining the group attractiveness. The degree of prestige of a group, as interpreted by the members will determine the degree of influence the group has over its members. •If any attempt is made to change any individual or some individuals who deviates the group norms there is likelihood of the change attempt being resisted by the group.

Thus, the management should consider the group as the basic unit of change. Group interactions should be encouraged; it should be provided full information by the management. The management should also explain the rationale of change and try to convince that the interests of the group members would not be adversely affected. Group dynamics also help in providing various training programmers for accepting and implementing change.There may be reasons for resistance to change for analytical purpose, lets us categories the causes into the following. 1. Individual Resistance. 2.

Group Resistance. 3. Organizational Resistance. 1.

Individual Resistance Individual arise due to differing perceptions, personalities and needs. Some of these reasons appear to be rational and emotional. These reasons are listed below, a). Economic Factors The economic reasons for the resistance to change may be the following: •In organization when the development or change on technology takes place, employee resists the change. Employee may fear that the change will lead to technological unemployment. Generally, new technology is associated with education of labor intake and therefore they resist the change.For example the introduction of computer in an organization means that employee will have to learn the certain package to work efficiently.

They may not be liked by some employees and they develop negative attitude towards computer and resist them. •In organization where pay is tied to productivity individuals usually resists change as they fear that they will not be able to perform new task effectively, thus causing a decline in productivity and a decrease in their income. •Workers may fear that they will be demoted if they do not acquire the skills required for the new jobs. •Workers resist the changes which lead to high standards which in turn may reduce the opportunities for bonus or incentive pay. Habit: All human being are creatures of habit.Individual generally feel comfortable in the environment that they are habituated to.

The modern life is very complex and no one likes to consider the full range of option for the hundreds of decision which has to be made everyday. Instead we rely on habit or programmed responses. When confronted with change, the thought if moving away from the environment they are accustomed to become a source of resistance. Insecurity: Safety and security are high priority for every individual. One of the major reasons for resistance to change is uncertainty about the impact of change, especially on the job security. When employees feel that the security of the job is threatened by change, they resist it.The fear unknown always has a major impact on the decision of the individual.

Lack of Communication: If the workers are given an opportunity to participate in the process of change, the resistance is likely to be less. But if the change is not properly communicated that to in an acceptable manner to the employees, it is likely to cause resistance. Extent of Change: If there is a minor change and the change involves only the routine operations the resistance will be minimum or no resistance. But incase of major changes like reshuffling of staff will lead to major visible resistance. Similarly the process of change is slow, the resistance will be less as compared to rapid or sudden change.

b). Psychological FactorsOne of the major reasons for resistance can be emotional turmoil that a change may cause especially if the past experiences with the change have not been positive. The psychological reasons for the resistance to change are: •Workers may have the fear that the new job will bring boredom and monotony as a result of specialization brought by the new technology. •Change in technology brings new method of doing the job and it must be learnt and adopt the new ideas of doing the job. To learn these ideas they need work hard and they do not want to take the trouble in learning new things. •The workers may be incapable of understanding the implications of new ideas and method. Workers may not like criticism implied in a change that the present method is inadequate and unsuitable.

•New changes may lead to reduction of the personal pride of the workers because they fear that new work changes will do away with the need for much manual work. c). Social Factors Every individual have social needs like friends, belongingness, etc. In organization, while working employee develop social relationship with the other employees. They become members of certain informal group.

The change will bring a fear in mind of people because generally people dislike with for new adjustment, breaking present social relationship reduce social relationship, feeling of outside interference in the form change agent etc. 2. Group ResistanceWhile working in an organization the employee form informal group in the organization. The most organizational change has impact in informal group in the organization. Breaking up a close knit work group or changing social relationship can provoke a great deal of resistance. The main reason why the groups resist change is that they fear that their cohesiveness or existence is threatened by it.

This is particularly true in case of group which are very cohesive where people have a strong case of belongingness to group and where member consider the group as superior to the other groups. 3. Organizational Resistance Organizational resistance means that the change is resisted at the level of the organizational itself.Some organizations are so designed that they resist new ideas, this is specifically true in case of organizations which are conservative in nature. Government agencies want to continue doing what they have been doing for a number of years even though there is need for the change in their services. Majority of the business firms are also resistant to changes. The major reasons for organizational resistance are: •Threat to Power.

Top management generally considers change as a threat to their power and influence in the organization due to which the change will be resisted by them. The introduction of participative decision making or self-managed work teams is the kind of change which is often seen as threatening by the middle and top level management. •Group inertia.Sometimes, the individuals resist change because the group to which they belong resists it. The degree and force of resistance will depend upon how loyal one is to the group and how effectively the group resists the change. •Organizational structure.

Change is often resisted by the bureaucratic structures where jobs are narrowly defined, lines of authority clearly spelled and flow of i9nformation is stressed from top to bottom. Moreover, organizations are made up of a number of interdependent subsystems, one system cannot be changed without affecting the others. •Threat to specialization. Change in organization may threaten the expertise of specialized groups.For example, giving computer training to all the employees in the organization and giving personal computers was perceived as a threat by the experts in computer department of the organization. •Resource constraints. Organizations need adequate financial resource for training change agents and for offering rewards to those who support change.

An organization who does not have resources for implementing the change resists it. •Sunk cost. The change is generally resisted by the top management because it often leads to the problem of sunk costs. The heavy capital which already invested in the fixed assets or the amount which has already been spent on the training of the employees will go waste if the change is introduced.

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