Organisation Change Management and Resistance to Change


This literature review examines organizational change and offers an in-depth study of “resistance to change”. It aims to deepen this field by a theoretical exposition of the concept of “resistance to change”. It is a key topic in change management and has been seriously considered for helping the organizations to achieve the advantages of this transformation. This review hints at where an organization should give special attention while initiating a change process. The study analysis the main sources of ‘resistance to change’ and also how to overcome it.

Many authors (Lawrence, 1954; Maurer, 1996; Strebel, 1994; Waddell and Sohal, 1998; among others) have done lot of research to investigate the reasons of the failure of different change initiatives and they found that resistance to change is the one of those may reasons. Resistance to change can cause very costly and time consuming delays in change process. (Ansoff, 1990) we must consider them even though they are very difficult to anticipate. There is another school of thought who consider Resistance as a source of information and can be used as a learning to develop a more successful change process (Beer and Eisenstat, 1996; Goldstein, 1988; Lawrence, 1954; Piderit, 2000; Waddell and Sohal, 1998). There is no doubt that resistance to change is a very important topic in the field of change management and business process engineering and can help organizations to achieve the advantages of the transformation if it is considered seriously .

Considering the importance of resistance to change, this paper aims to delve deeper understanding in this field through a theoretical exposition of the concept. In this study, we analyzed the main sources of resistance to change and their relationships with types of changes.


When a mature and able manager feels bored, he should seriously consider changing jobs, changing companies-or simply retiring. It is not fair to anyone for half a leader to hold a full-time leadership job.”

– James L. Hayes

People can easily be overwhelmed by change, especially within large organizations where they may perceive they have little or no voice in or control over the changes they believe are descending upon them. ( Lorenzi N. M., Riley R. T, Blyth A. J. C, Southon G, Dixon B. J, ) The typical response is fight or flight, not cooperation. Managers often interpret such human resistance to change as “stubbornness” or as “not being on the team.” This reaction solves nothing in terms of reducing resistance to change or gaining acceptance of it. Many managers do not accept that they are regarded as imposing “life-threatening” changes and establishing “no-win” adversary relationships between management and those below in the organization. Sometime managers try to disguise the impending change with what they consider innocuous names, (e.g., organizational effectiveness) or they adopt a metaphor (e.g., architecture for the future). The end result of people feeling disenfranchised is inevitable, as the examples of different organisations from around the world attest. (Lorenzi N. M., Riley R. T, Blyth A. J. C, Southon G, Dixon B. J,)

Change is a constant in both our professional and our private lives. Children grow up taking for granted such things as powerful personal computers that we could not envision at their ages. The idea that human beings naturally resist change is deeply embedded in our thinking about change. Our language (e.g., “resistance to change”), our assumptions, and our mental models about change all seem to imply that something in our natures leads us to resist change. However, it is easy to find examples of human beings, from childhood on through old age, actively seeking out change of all sorts. Human beings do not necessarily resist change automatically; however, many people do resist being changed, i.e., having changes imposed on them. (Lawrence, P.R.,)

Organizational change normally involves some threat, real or perceived, of personal loss for those involved. This threat may vary from job security to simply the disruption of an established routine. Furthermore, there may be tradeoffs between the long and short run. As an individual, I may clearly perceive that a particular proposed change is, in the long run, in my own best interests, and I may be very interested in seeing it happen, yet I may have short-run concerns that lead me to oppose particular aspects of the change or even the entire change project.

The rate of change is escalating in virtually all organizations. The pressure is intense on anybody connected with the business world to focus time and attention on understanding the forces driving the changing environment and develop or implement the information systems needed to support the altered environment.

Resistance to Change

It is easy to change the things that nobody cares about. It becomes difficult when you start to change the things that people do care about or when they start to care about the things that you are changing (Lorenzi and Riley)

Many authors (Lawrence, 1954; Maurer, 1996; Strebel, 1994; Waddell and Sohal, 1998; among others) have investigated that the reasons for the failure of many change initiatives can be found in resistance to change. Resistance to change is costly and time consuming into the change process which means long or short delays in any process of change (Ansoff, 1990) that are difficult to anticipate but must be taken into consideration. Resistance has also been considered as a source of information, being useful in learning how to develop a more successful change process (Beer and Eisenstat, 1996; Goldstein, 1988; Lawrence, 1954; Piderit, 2000; Waddell and Sohal, 1998). Undoubtedly, resistance to change is a key topic in change management and should be seriously considered to help the organization to achieve the advantages of the transformation.

Resistance to change is an ongoing problem. At both the individual and the organizational levels, resistance to change impairs concerted efforts to improve performance. Many corporate change efforts have been initiated at tremendous cost only to be halted by resistance among the organization’s employees. Organizations as a whole also manifest behaviour similar to that of individuals when faced with the need to change.

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The relationship between individual and organizational resistance to change is important. An organization is a complex system of relationships between people, leaders, technologies, and work processes. From this interaction emerge organizational behaviour, culture, and performance. (Maurer, R. 1996)

These emergent properties and behaviors are tightly linked in two directions to the lower-level interactions. Organizational resistance to change is an emergent property, and individual resistance to change can give rise to organizational resistance. A self-reinforcing loop of increasing resistance can develop as individuals create an environment in which resistance to change is the norm. That environment in turn encourages increased resistance to change among individual employees. The self-reinforcing nature of this loop can be tremendously powerful, defeating repeated attempts to break out of it. (Maurer, R. 1996)

Studies of system dynamics frequently reveal that major problems that everyone thought were external are actually the unintended consequences of internal policies.

Definition of Resistance to change

Zander (1950), defined resistance to change as “a behavior, which is intended to protect an individual from the effects of real or imagined change”. Resistance to change is an inevitable response to any major change. Individuals naturally rush to defend the status quo if they feel that their security and status are threatened. (Bolognese, 2002) Whereas Prado del Val and Fuentes say that “Resistance to change is a key topic in change management and should be seriously considered to help the organizations to achieve the advantages of the transformation.” (Prado del Val, Fuentes, 2003), But De Jager (2001) had described resistance to change by taking a positive approach and stated “Resistance is simply a very effective, very powerful and a very useful survival mechanism”. (De Jager, 2001)

The factors that often lead to resistance to change

These are some of those factors that often lead employees and top management resist changing.

Ambiguity concerning alteration: Organization members may have a psychological resistance to change because they seek to avoid uncertainty. Past ways of doing things are well known and predictable, and the unwillingness to give up familiar tasks or relationship also cause resistance (Mabin , Forgeson & Greene, 2001).

Apprehension for mysterious: people become anxious when they exchange the old and familiar for something new and uncertain .A lack of information and understanding often leaves a vacuum which is filled by rumors, speculation and uncertainty.

Disruption of Routine: Projected changes that disturb habitual routines or patterns are likely to encounter resistance because a person’s behavior is governed largely by habits and routine when a person successfully copes with a situation, he or she will usually continue to operate in a similar manner. The known is preferred and this is especially true when the established behavior has resulted in past successes.

Loss of Existing Benefits: When the change causes employees to feel pressured, they may interpret change as a loss of individual security. There may be a emotional loss a loss of prior “comfort zone”.

Threat to Position Power: As the title implies, any change that causes a manager to lose face will always be resisted. Changes that threaten to lower the status or prestige of the individual or group will probably meet resistance.

Threat to Security: Change sometimes results in a potential disadvantage to an individual employee or group, and people tend to resist changes that threaten the security of their environment. There may be concerns for the vested interests such as the loss of job, reduced promotional potential, change in career opportunities, reduction in wages etc.

Redistribution of Power: A major factor in resistance to innovation is that reorganization invariably implies a redistribution of power and influence. Individuals or groups who perceive that a change will lessen their degree of influence will strongly resist such changes.

Disturb existing social networks: Generally technical changes are more readily accepted When do not disturb existing social networks. Friendships, social cliques, or informal teams may be threatened by changes.

Resistance to the new Technology: They perceive that new technology will add up to more of unwanted work and will contribute to increased responsibility. They oppose the new processes because they feel that the change will not solve their problems, which they are experiencing.

Organization’s past performance: The past performance of the change project impacts the perception of employees for the current change project, if the past change project had been introduced and was being failed. This may force them to oppose change.

Lack of skill and experience: Managers are fearful about the skills, knowledge and responsibilities, which will be placed on them by the new business processes and technologies. They are also concerned about the experience to effectively manage their employee’s resistance. And they feel uncomfortable with their role in coping with the change. (Waddle, Sohal, 1998)

Disagreement with the new way: When the pace seems too excessive and fast, most people resist. And they conclude that the solution is not the best way for fixing the prevailing problems. So they disagree specifically with the change. (Waddle, sohal, 1998)

Overload of tasks: At times they even put change in terms of an additional burden. They find the change initiative as an extra work and a resource strain. Along with the duty of implementing change they are also expected to perform their daily activities and avoid bringing about changes. (Waddle, Sohal, 1998)


The resistance to change if ignored can have detrimental effects on the working of an organization .It is required to be fully reduced or eliminated on an individual levels as people can feign agreement to change and obtain control of change process. This would allow various mechanisms of sabotage to be employed from the inside the organizations such as they can mislead the organization members to completely stall or halt the change process.

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Resistance to change can also set the managers against each other, as difference of opinions may exist. This will also lead to rumors and misinformation to be spread out deliberately for setting up a conflict within the organization. This can lead to strikes and no-cooperation movements within the organization which will seriously obstruct company’s plans and might prove to be the lot of production and time loss for the organization. Resistance to change can led to slowing up of processes as the people not conforming the change will deliberately delay the process by requesting further information. All such actions lead to increase in the overall costs to the organization.

Resistance to change may also put the reputation of the organization at stake as those opposing the change can go to media and give statements which may not be good for company’s image in the market.

How to Overcome Resistance to Change

Change triggers emotional reaction because of the uncertainty involved, and most Organisational change efforts run into some form of employee resistance. Resistance to change can be overcome by education and communication, participation and involvement, facilitation and support, negotiation and rewards, and coercion and manipulation.

These are some importent change approaches to deal with resistance to change:

Kotter and Schlesinger set out the following six (6) change approaches to deal with this resistance to change:

Education and Communication – Where there is a lack of information or inaccurate information and analysis. One of the best ways to overcome resistance to change is to educate people about the change effort beforehand. Up-front communication and education helps employees see the logic in the change effort. this reduces unfounded and incorrect rumors concerning the effects of change in the organization.

Participation and Involvement – Where the initiators do not have all the information they need to design the change and where others have considerable power to resist. When employees are involved in the change effort they are more likely to buy into change rather than resist it. This approach is likely to lower resistance and those who merely acquiesce to change.

Facilitation and Support – Where people are resisting change due to adjustment problems. Managers can head-off potential resistance by being supportive of employees during difficult times. Managerial support helps employees deal with fear and anxiety during a transition period. The basis of resistance to change is likely to be the perception that there some form of detrimental effect occasioned by the change in the organization. This approach is concerned with provision of special training, counseling, time off work.

Negotiation and Agreement – Where someone or some group may lose out in a change and where that individual or group has considerable power to resist. Managers can combat resistance by offering incentives to employees not to resist change. This can be done by allowing change resistors to veto elements of change that are threatening, or change resistors can be offered incentives to leave the company through early buyouts or retirements in order to avoid having to experience the change effort. This approach will be appropriate where those resisting change are in a position of power.

Manipulation and Co-option – Where other tactics will not work or are too expensive. Kotter and Schlesinger suggest that an effective manipulation technique is to co-opt with resisters. Co-option involves the patronizing gesture in bringing a person into a change management planning group for the sake of appearances rather than their substantive contribution. This often involves selecting leaders of the resisters to participate in the change effort. These leaders can be given a symbolic role in decision making without threatening the change effort. Still, if these leaders feel they are being tricked they are likely to push resistance even further than if they were never included in the change effort leadership.

Explicit and Implicit Coercion – Where speed is essential and to be used only as last resort. Managers can explicitly or implicitly force employees into accepting change by making clear that resisting to change can lead to losing jobs, firing, transferring or not promoting employees.


There are some people living in a conservative world, for them change is often believed as a dangerous threat. For some of course change can be a positive thing however since most of negative cases were widely exposed more than the positive side, more people would normally be happy if changes do not take place. Change can be interpreted as promotion and demotion – which leaves many feel insecure with their future employment (McGuire, 2003). They are worry about how they may have to do their work in different ways or their current “salary will be subject to change” (McGuire, 2003). Admittedly, behind all the change process there are organisations needs for make more profits in any possible way which often leads to job-cutting and restructuring. In business world everything is a competition. Everyone within organisation must compete both internally and externally to keep their existing job or to get a better one.

Managers most of the time view resistance negatively and employees resisting to change are considered disobedient but often resistance may play a positive and useful role in any change process. Folger Skarlicki has given a positive view and said “not all interventions are appropriate as implemented, the organization might be changing the wrong thing or doing it wrong. Just as conflict can sometimes be used constructively for change, legitimate resistance might bring about additional organizational change”. (Skarlicki F 1999)

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Waddell specifically analysed this resistance issues and found that there are many idealist managers who believe that “change process that occurs with only minimal resistance must have been a good change that was managed well” (Waddell, 1998). She argued that this understanding is an immature perspective which leaves resistance in the negative side of the change process. She discovered that even in the early 1990s a number of management experts were still correlate resistances with “counter-productive behaviors” (Waddell, 1998). Waddell also found that resistance is far more complex condition than just one thought. Several minor factors may lead to a multifaceted reason why resistance exists (Waddell, 1998):

Rational factor This happens when some employees are having different understanding of the outcome of the change with the management. Such condition may convey them to choose being opposition to change.

Non-rational factor This reaction comes from insensible employees who simply being egoist without trying to understand the needs of Organisation in general. In this category are those with “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” feeling (McGuire, 2003).

Political factor This reaction may arise when some people are trying to politicise the change and the fact that they may be happy if they win against their opponent in decision whether change should take place or not.

Management factor Of course there are possibilities where management doesn’t provide adequate information which may lead to resistances.

Rituals of Transition

All change involves loss. In many cases, change requires at the minimum that individuals give up familiar routines. In some cases, the loss is substantial, affecting position, power, networks of friends and colleagues, and such. In all these situations, rituals of transition can be crucial in assisting people to grieve and let go of the old and move on to the new.

The strategies for overcoming the barriers to change are quite diverse and touch on every aspect of the organization. No organization can begin using all the strategies at the same time or even in a short period of time. A better approach is to focus on one or two until they become part of the normal way of operating, i.e., until they become engrained in people’s habits. Only then is it time to introduce another strategy. In this way, over time, the organization gradually improves its abilities to learn rapidly, to adapt to new conditions, and to embrace change.

Concluding thoughts and reflection of future role

Resistance is normal and natural. As human beings we are all naturally resistant to change. This is in essence dictated by evolutionary history. Survival of the species depended upon being able to quickly scan any change for potential danger so it could be avoided if possible. As a result we are naturally danger people and when anything new pops into the environment we look to see how it might be a threat. If we perceive a threat then we avoid or resist it.

Resistance emerges when there are a threat to something the individual values. The threat may be real or it may be just a perception. It may arise from a genuine understanding of the change or from misunderstanding, or even almost total ignorance about it.

It is very interesting to find that despite the number of people who thought that resistance is a horrifying thing, there are some people who are trying to come up with a new and daring idea that resistant would be helpful, useful, beneficial or even constructive in someway. After investigating some of interesting and useful literatures, I realized that resistance is not just a word to use as blocking every effort of change as it sounds like there are other constrictive meanings of this word.

Unfortunately I never had any experience with management jobs where I have to force any change and observe any resistance first hand, however if some day I do get opportunity to manage a team and any change initiative I will now remember that resistant can be positive helpful and rewarding.

As a future management consultant, I could imagine that, I will be involved in big and hectic projects where I have to implement new systems or upgrade existing ones I can imagine minimizing the resistance will be a big task but I think if change process is initiated properly it is possible and achievable. I will try to address the problem if resistance is a problem accordingly by putting it in a positive way and educating resisters about the change process and by learning from their fears and concerns. I will try to choose the right change path so that resistance can be reduced or overcome. Easier way to lessen the resistance is by assuring the people and makes them believe, that change is inevitable and it will exciting and will bring new and positive opportunities for all. I will make sure that take them with me and not run fast so they know what is happening in organization. Bottom line is as change is inevitable thing resistance is too, so they run parallel to each other if resistance is positive company learn and win if it is negative and can not overcome by positive means organization is loser. I would ask those with the “future” to understand our current needs and those with short vision to watch towards a better future. For me, I would wisely use my free-will certainly as the very last weapon (and not the first) and committed to support any constructive plans headed for a better plan in business and future personally. In this case, a brain would normally work better than a heart.

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