How organizations manage resistance to change

Severe competitive and economic pressures that organizations face today were unthinkable a few decades ago. In order to shed excess costs and to respond more nimbly to customers and competitors, they are being urged to adopt new organizational forms, tightened inter organizational linkages and improved management practices (cf. Miles and Snow 1980, Johnston and Lawrence, 1988). Any change in organization is followed by a kind of resistance from its employees. In this assignment a few methods that can be used to overcome change in the organization are described.

Technology developments, social and demographic shifts, competition of changing market and economic issues, tend an organization to implement change in it as well. The rapid and dynamic change in market has increased consumerism. Whether it is an automobile industry or cosmetic industry or IT industry, consumer today has lots of choices these days that they need not have to wait for longer for any product. This changing market scenario imparts a message to managing bodies that the way of work should also change with the changing market. From managerial point of view a change is referred to as change in work pattern, work routine and work culture inside the working atmosphere. Change is normally a reaction to changing commercial, technological, economical, structural and strategic environment in which the company operates (Barbara Senior, Organizational Change). For example; departmentalization, job redesign, implementation of an international division are the examples of structural changes whereas work processes, methods and equipments are technological changes.

Change should be welcomed as it can produce positive benefits for the individuals, bring opportunities for personal change and development, reduces boredom of work, provides new challenges and an opportunity to participate and shape the outcome. But unfortunately as change is accompanied by resistance, it is very important that the Change Manager anticipate and plan strategies for dealing with resistance not only at the introduction of change but also for monitoring the change over long term (Ronald, G and Smith, J 1995). It is helpful to understand why people resist change, because understanding this allows us to plan strategies to reduce resistance from the beginning. Kotter and Schlesinger identified the basic reasons of resistance to change are communication gap and inadequate information that creates misunderstanding, sense of insecurity, different assessment of situation and disagreement over advantages and disadvantages. Moreover, individuals are more concerned with the implications for themselves (Management by Robbins and Coulter).

Organizations do not change, individuals do. No matter how large is the project you are taking on, the success of project ultimately lies with each employee doing their work differently multiplied across all of employees impacted by the change (Web 1). Individual barriers to change include- tradition and set ways; loyalty to existing relationships; failure to accept the need for change; insecurity; preference for the existing arrangements; break up of work groups; different person ambitions; fear of power; skills and income; inability to perform as well in the new situation as for example, when quality control methods based on statistical models were introduced into manufacturing units, the quality control department have to learn the new methods. Some may fear that they will be unable to do so and may develop negative attitude towards the change or perform poorly if required to use the new methods. Sometimes change is resisted because of failures in the way it is introduced to the employees and the management fails to explain the need for change and its future benefits. Poor employer relations, lack of involvement in process and failure to offer support and training for the introduced change are the other reasons for change resistance (Web 2).

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Resisting change takes many forms (Web 3) and the more obvious form is of active resistance, objection and refusal to cooperate with the change occurs. Sometimes, resistance appears to be individual and sometimes it is clearly situational. It may be passive in which colleagues agree to a change but are unwilling or unable to implement something new. This subtle form of resistance is dealt with more difficulty. For example, at a staff meeting everyone agrees to follow a new procedure, but after several weeks it is being discovered that the procedure has not been implemented yet. Another example of this kind is the introduction of new computers at the new place but virtually no one is using them for the purpose for which they are intended, since the staff had their own machines. The employee consents to change by agreeing to it but later he only changes to appear cooperative, but in fact he is doing most things the way he was before the change.

At the moment the change program is announced, many employees will employ tactics to protect themselves, their turf, and ultimately their place in the organization. Some will aggressively challenge the necessity for change. This is a time waster and thus prevents critical objectives from being met. Every person who facilitates the change process must work diligently to build consensus. The employee must be assured that every idea is worth considering. If anyone argues, he or she can be asked to explain why he or she feels the way they do and ask for three or four suggestions for making the process work. Some managers and members of the leadership team will avoid change by passively refusing the commitment to the process. Often these leaders will resist the change effort by being unavailable for meetings, denying resources, or withholding feedback. “The leadership” is a particularly difficult foe, because change efforts often require the use of resources managed by the leadership, such as time and money. Without these resources change efforts are likely to fail. Accountability with consequences is the primary means for assuring leadership participation. Many employees and organizational leaders search for personal or professional diversions during the change process that will ultimately hinder the effort. A distracted individual can undermine the change effort by not being present physically or mentally when his or her critical input is needed. Not being mindful of change creates an unnecessarily difficult experience for every member of the team. Such carelessness calls to mind the wasted energy expended when one runs against the wind. Change efforts provide an opportunity for every one affected to secure a new place in the organization or make a decision to seek a better fit elsewhere.

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Ken Hultman argues that while no-one is a perfect change agent, managers have to be impeccable role models for bringing up a successful change. The essential attributes of such a person include the ability to be a clear thinker who is able to get a view about organizational situation and reach at logical conclusions. Hultman suggests few things in creating the right environment for change to occur. Firstly we must do things to establish a positive climate (p172) and secondly we must attempt to create environmental conditions that encourage an interest in improvement. Managers must demonstrate that how changes will improve employees circumstances and that there are opportunities in the change such as enabling colleagues to increase their knowledge and skills leading to genuine achievements and progress They must cultivate a value for collaborative working among staff and colleagues need each other to complete their tasks, it is easier to develop values of co-operation and mutuality. Whatever are the circumstances management must stay calm. At the heart of Hultman’s analysis is a set of humanistic values along with an assumption that one cannot even hope to influence another colleague without firstly demonstrating that they will have their needs met in some way. It is likely to be counterproductive by getting impatient, exasperated and angry.

Being a change manager it is his/her duty to reduce the resistance towards change and towards change and to increase the enthusiasm and level of commitment for the change. While likely to encounter the people who resist change, people who welcome change will also be encountered and by knowing the reasons for their acceptance to change, the communication plan will be better formulated. People will accept change when they see possibility that they will gain something from the change. The gain may be either personal like, money; increased job security; status; self satisfaction; less effort and time and gain in better personal contact or other like it provides new challenges, likeness of the source, reduction in boredom etc.

In order to reduce resistance to change, the manager should involve people affected by change, actively seeking their thoughts and reactions to proposed changes. They must develop a proper attitude towards resistance to change and realize that it is neither good nor bad. The best way to minimize resistance to change is to involve those responsible for implementing it and those affected by it. People are more motivated towards successful completion when they feel that they are the valued participants in planning and implementing the change. Also ensure that people from all the levels of organization are involved in planning the change process and they should be listened carefully. In the early stages, manager should not launch into lengthy diatribes justifying the change as people are not interested in that. They want to be heard and have their concerns attended to. They must recognize that it takes time to work through reactions to change. Then people should be engaged in dialogue about the change. They should do this only after understanding the specific concerns of others completely. Change must be realistic, achievable and measurable.


Communication and education is helpful method to sort out the things when resistance is due to lack of information or inappropriate information and analysis. Though time consuming, this method provides great employee support if persuaded. When cause of resistance is difficulty in adjustment to changes, management support and facilitation do work at times. This is expensive and still unreliable way to overcome the change. Manipulation of some information is necessary some times in order to avoid negative reactions by the employee. The people that easily accept changes and get adapted to changing atmosphere can set an example for others and hence they follow the suit. Therefore, they should be the first target of change program.

Three basic steps- planning, implementation, and evaluation of outcomes of both the plan and implementation are involved in the change process. Resistance to change should be dealt ideally with planning and early stages of implementation. For proper planning for change, a manager must consider about how and when the change is needed and the way it should be communicated to the employees for their better support. Managers should pay attention to the focus of change, the amount of change, and the rate of change in order to implement change. Evaluation of outcomes of change is also very important as all the change efforts are result oriented. If change is not monitored, its effectiveness cannot be measured. This can be done by collecting data and comparing the results against original goals.

To wind up at the end of an interesting discussion we can conclude that a degree of resistance is normal since change is disruptive and stressful but in general, most people have mixed reactions towards purposed change, so the change agents can be helpful in highlighting the positive aspects in realistic manner. Although most people feel comfortable with minor changes, no one can live and work by yesterday’s reality. Managers must reduce change in very effective, meaningful and healthy way without hurting the sentiments of the employees. By providing resources to support the changes, allowing enough time and flexibility and with the widespread commitment of people throughout the organization, change efforts will succeed.

(2) Hultman, K. (1998), Making Change Irresistible: Overcoming resistance to change in your organisation, Davies-Black Publishing, Palo Alto

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