Why do organizations experience resistance to change?

June 25, 2018 English Language

Why do organizations experience resistance to change?
What techniques can managers use to overcome resistance?

If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change. (Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. II Gattopardo 1958). More and more organizations have come to accept that as the external environment changes they need to adapt in order to stay competitive. Organizational change may be necessary to retain a competitive edge in the ever changing economic dynamics. A manager or leaders job is to anticipate and plan for change in order to stay current with the global environment. However this is not the only dilemma managers are faced with, they also have the task of convincing their employees that the change is for the betterment of the organization as a whole. Unfortunately change within an organization is not always a smooth process. Resistance to change exist at all levels, from low level employees all the way up in the organization as a whole. Individuals may resist change for reasons such as, poor communication, Job security, mistrust initiators of change, Lack of capabilities/skill, reallocation of resources. When the reason for the change is unclear.

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Most times the change is not properly communicated to the employees and this can further complicate the matter, and individuals tend to resist what they don’t understand. Often lack of adequate information about both the need for the change and what its effects are likely to cause resistance. In contrast resistance will likely to be less if the workers are kept informed. Most time workers are not given an opportunity to participate in the process of change, therefore if change is taking place of which they had no input, they feel excluded from the decision making process and perhaps offended by the entire process and this can lead to resistance. The uncertainty of the impact of change on job security will cause employees to resist the planned changed. Sometimes technological changes may cause some restricted working hours or layoffs, so when employees feel that the security of their jobs are threatened by change they tend to resist it. In addition organizational change can be seen as a threat to job placement, promotion, power and status quo or social standing. Managers may also resist changes that will decrease their power or authority and transfers it to their subordinates. Top and middle managers generally consider change as a threat to their power and influence in the organization, consequently any proposed change that will cause them to lose their organizational power or status will be met with resistance by them.

Resistance may also come from people who feel that they will be worse off at the end of the change, if people believe the change favours another people group, or department. Change is not made without inconvenience, even from worse to better. (Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language 1755). Employees will have concerns about would-be initiators with unknown agendas behind any proposed change. For instance if the originator of the change has a blemished past, then it will be difficult for him/her to gain the trust and support of the staff, especially through a period of change. If they seek to promote change in an organization, not only will they encounter resistance, members will always mistrust their motives. Staff may also believe that the initiator of the change is using the opportunity to put themselves in a favourable position, as to have more control or authority of a specific department in order to satisfy his/her desires.

It’s difficult for an old dog to learn new tricks. Sometimes change in organizations may have need of new capabilities and skills. For this reason managers will employ staff training programs and seminars to bring about the changes required. However some employees may feel that they won’t be able to make the transition from old to new very well, because they lack faith in their ability to learn new skills. Likewise some staff members tend to hold on to the old way of doing things, no matter how rational the way may seem to them, because they are already seasoned in the old way they tend to become emotionally connected and to try to change them to do something new will cause them to resist any proposed change. The more things change the more they remain the same (Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr 1839).

Managers today have to do more with less, and get better results from limited resources, more than ever before. That’s why the reallocation of resource such as money, time, machinery and staff, can cause some resistance. When resources move from one department to the next, managers are put under a strain to come up with some innovative ways to keep production up. So they tend to resist any changes that will deplete their already limited resources. There is no doubt that creativity is the most important human resource of all. Without creativity, there would be no progress, and we would be forever repeating the same patterns (Edward De Bono quotes and sayings). Change has become the new normal in today’s dynamic work environment, and it is causing business to alter its strategies to cope with the effects of a global economy.

Because of technological advances we have witnessed the birth of many multinational organizations, more frequent cross border mergers, and more international trade alliances, to mention a few. In order for organizations to cope successfully with the effects of globalization, managers must plan for and have the ability to manage change and the resistance that may come with it. Some of the ways managers can contain or control resistance to change are through education and communication, participation and involvement, and coercion. In order for managers cope with and overcome resistance to change they need to clearly communicate the change effort and to employees.

Managers also need to educate employees of pending change before the process begins. Due to the fact that educating and informing employees up front will help employees recognize the logic in the change effort, this will intern assist in quelling all unfounded and inaccurate rumours, because in the absence of proper information rumours can cripple the change effort. “Where the public wants to understand but does not receive any official answers, there are rumours. Rumours are the black market of information”. (Mark Schindler, Rumours in Financial Markets). When resistance is based on improper and lack of information, this approach seems to work best.

When employees are involved in the change effort they are more likely to buy into change rather than resist it. By allowing employees to participate in the change process will increases their knowledge and thus lessen fear, also employees will understand the reason for change and will tend to be more supportive of the process.

Even more managers can also empower staff members by involving line managers and front line supervisors to participate in planning meetings, also providing seminars and training sessions for team members as a strategy to affect behavioural change and suppress resistance. Middle managers can also be used throughout the change process to train and develop their front line employees, therefore if they do not buy into the change process or see it as not necessary this can make the whole process difficult. Managers can also openly or indirectly force employees into accepting change by making clear that resistors will be faced with undesirable situations if they don’t comply.

Most times resistors or inciters are threatened with job loss, reduce working hours and demotion or stagnation. This however is not a desirable method because of the negative effects that are associated with this method, but this method may be the appropriate method to be used during crisis situations when a rapid transition is needed. On the other hand managers should keep in mind that this method can give rise to disgruntle employees, poor performance, and even sabotage, which in turn can be disruptive to the change effort.

The rate of change is not going to slow down anytime soon. If anything, global competition will probably speed up even more as globalization takes effect, while every organization is different there are some shared best practices that can help managers cope with and suppress resistance, so administrators will continue to monitor plan for and manage change in order to maintain an effective and global ready organization. “Change has a bad reputation in our society. But it isn’t all bad, not by any means. In fact, change is necessary in life to keep us moving, to keep us growing, and to keep us interested, (Dr. Dennis O’Grady in Bottom Line – Personal).


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