Resistance to Change


Resistance to change is a concept that represents a person’s or group’s psychological tendency to maintain and protect the status quo. It is human nature for people to resist change. Oftentimes this resistance is because people are afraid of the unknown, which is what change can represent. Resistance to change involves employees’ behaviour designed to discredit, prevent or delay the changes introduced for the development of an organisation.

According to Zaltman and Duncan, “Resistance to change can be defined as is any conduct that serves to maintain the status quo in the face of pressure to alter the status quo.”

According to Ansoff, “Resistance to change is a multifaceted phenomenon, which introduces unanticipated delays, costs, and instabilities into the process of strategic change”. 

According to Lines, “Resistance to change can be defined as behaviours that are acted out by change recipients to slow down or terminate an intended organisational change”.


Related Article: Product Life Cycle


Types of Resistance to Change 

Resistance to change takes different forms which are as follows:

1) Psychological Resistance: Many resistances are psychological, ie, sentimental, perceptual and emotional. The employees are directed by their feelings and self-esteem. The resistances are not real but employees feel them to be very real and important. The fear of termination, fear of loss of pay and loss in status are the important causes of psychological resistance.

2) Sociological Resistance: A group believes changes to be non-essential. The people in the society are also not in favour of changes. They find that changes are against the group’s interests, norms and values. Social values must be considered a strong force against changes.

Society feels them to are useless and against the established norms of the social system. Sometimes, the resistance can be purely political and sponsored by the union. Group resists the changes on several grounds such as uprooting social norms and devaluating social standards.

3) Logical Resistance: Resistance is considered logically opposed to the existing technique. Changes are not desirable at present. They may be beneficial in the future. The technical feasibility of changes is not possible. Changes involve a high cost and less benefit.

The management should evolve the costs and benefits of changes. If the costs are higher than the benefits, the change is avoided. Similarly, if the benefits are more than the costs, changes are accepted. The costs and benefits are calculated for a longer period. All types of costs and all types of benefits are calculated for the purpose.

Reasons for Resistance to Change

Reasons for resistance to change are found at the following three levels:

Reasons for Resistance to Change


1) Individual Resistance: Individual sources of resistance to change reside in basic human characteristics such as perception, personalities, and needs.

The following summarises five reasons why people may resist change:

i) Habit: Human beings are creatures of habit: So whenever we are confronted with change this tendency to respond in our accustomed ways becomes a source of resistance. For example, day-shift working.

ii) Security: People with a high need for security are likely to resist change because it threatens their feelings of safety. 

iii) Economic Factors: Another source of individual resistance is concern that changes will lower one’s income. Changes in job tasks or established work routines also can arouse economic fears if people are concerned that they won’t be able to perform the new tasks, so they stuck to routines of their previous standards, especially when pay is closely tied to productivity.

iv) Fear of the Unknown: Changes replace uncertainty and uncleanness for the known. The shift from high school to college is typically such an experience.

v) Selective Information Processing: People shape their world through their perceptions. Once a person has created his world, it resists change. So people are guilty of selectively processing information to keep their perceptions unchanged. We hear what we want to hear. We ignore information that challenges the world we have created.

2) Organisational Resistance: Many forces inside an organisation make it difficult for the organisation to change in response to changing conditions in its environment. The most powerful organisation-level hindrances to change include the following:

i) Power and Conflict: Change usually benefits some people, functions, or divisions at the expense of others. When change causes power struggles and organisational conflict, an organisation will likely resist it.

Suppose that a change in purchasing practices will help the materials management group in an organisation achieve its goal of reducing input costs but that it will harm manufacturing’s ability to reduce manufacturing costs.

Materials management will drive the change, but manufacturing will resist it. The conflicts between the two functions will slow down the change process and perhaps prevent it from occurring. 

ii) Differences in Functional Orientation: Differences in functional orientation are another major hindrance to change and source of organisational inertia. Different functions and divisions often see the source of a problem or issue differently as a result of their viewpoints.

This “tunnel vision” increases organisational inertia because the organisation must spend effort and time to secure agreement about the source of a problem before it can even consider how the organisation needs to respond to the problem. 

iii) Mechanistic Structure: Tall hierarchies, centralised decision-making, and the standardisation of behaviour through rules and procedures characterise the mechanistic structure. In contrast, organic structures are ad centralised and rely on mutual adjustment between people to get the job done. Which structure is likely to be more resistant to change?

Mechanistic structures are more resistant to change. People who work within a mechanistic structure are expected to act in certain ways and do not develop the initiative to adjust their behaviour to changing conditions.

The extensive use of mutual adjustment and decentralised authority in an organic structure, on the other hand, fosters the development of skills that enable employees to be creative, and responsive and find solutions to new problems.

A mechanistic structure typically develops as an organisation grows and is a principal source of inertia, especially in large organisations.

iv) Organisational Culture: The values and norms in an organisation’s culture can be another source of resistance to change. Just as role relationships result in a series of stable expectations between people, values and norms cause people to behave in predictable ways.

If organisational change disrupts taken-for-granted values and norms and forces people to change what they do and how they do it, resistance is likely to ensue. Many organisations develop conservative values that support the state quo and make managers reluctant to search for new ways to compete.

As a result, if the environment changes and a company’s products become obsolete, the company has nothing to fall back on; failure is therefore likely. Sometimes, values and norms are so strong that even when the environment is changing and it is clear that a new strategy needs to be adopted; managers cannot do so because they are wed to the methods they presently do business.

3) Group Resistance: People may perceive the likely impact of a change individually but they express it in the form of group response. Therefore, their evaluation is subject to modification by group behaviour. Thus, the group itself becomes a source of resistance. Groups perform much of an organisation’s work, and several group characteristics can produce resistance to change. Thus, the effect of the group as a source of resistance may be analysed in terms of the nature of group dynamics and vested interests:

i)  Group Norms: Many groups develop strong informal norms that specify appropriate and inappropriate behaviours and govern the interactions between group members. Often, change transforms role and task relationships in a group and when it does, it disrupts group norms and the informal expectations that members have of one another. As a result, group members may resist change because a whole new set of norms may have to be developed to meet the needs of the new situation.

ii) Group Cohesiveness: Group cohesiveness, or the attractiveness of a group to its members, affects group performance. Although some level of cohesiveness promotes group performance, too much cohesiveness can reduce performance because it stifles opportunities for the group to change and adapt. A highly cohesive group may oppose attempts by management to change what it does or even who is the group member. Group members may join to hold the status quo and to protect their interests at the expense of other groups.

iii) Groupthink and Escalation of Commitment: Groupthink is a pattern of faulty decision-making that occurs in cohesive groups when members discount negative information to agree with each other. Escalation of commitment worsens this situation. This occurs when members realise that their course of action is wrong, but continue to pursue it regardless. Escalation and groupthink can make changing a group’s behaviour very tough.


Overcoming Resistance to Change 

Resistance to change can be managed in the following given ways:

1) Define Clear Vision and Goals: Managers should define a clear vision for their organisation. This usually comprises running focus group meetings with employees to get their ideas about strategic direction. Effective managers prepare their employees for change by defining and validating specific, attainable, and measurable. relevant and time-constrained goals for the organisation.

2) Involve Employees in Change Process: Any time managers are going to implement organisational change; there is always a lag between, the time the change has been discussed at the management level and the time the change is going to be implemented.

Managers believe that they are the only ones who know about the changes that are going to take place. Unfortunately, employees are effectively undermining future changes with negative informal communication (the company grapevine). The sooner the employers involve employees in the process; the better off they will be implementing the change.

3) Interview Employees Regarding their Feelings: Managers must understand what employees are feeling regarding the change. It is only when they accurately understand their feelings that they know what issues need to be addressed. Implementing change needs the ability to sell and market. It is difficult to effectively sell without understanding buyers’ needs, concerns, and fears. 

4) Concentrate on Effective Delegation: Too often managers feel they must use self-protective measures, especially during organisational change. They start by trying to protect all activities. But he should concentrate on effective delegation during the early stages of the change process. Effective delegation is mainly good for two reasons: 

i) It helps to manage and maintain workload.; and

ii) It gives employees a sense of involvement. Involvement positions employees to share the responsibilities for a change.

5) Raise Levels of Expectations: Now more than ever, an employer should ask more from employees. During the change process, It is expected that more work needs to be done. While it may be most practical to expect less in terms of performance, raise levels of expectations and their employees: During change, employees are more likely to alter their work routines, so reach for the opportunity and push them to try harder and work smarter. Require performance improvements and make the process challenging, but remember to keep goals realistic to eliminate frustration and failure.

6) Ask Employees for Commitment: Once the change has been announced, it is important that the employer personally asks for each employee’s commitment to successfully implement the change. It is also important for assuring the employee that if there are problems, he wants to hear about them.

7) Expand Communication Channels: The change process usually means that normal communication channels in the firm need to be enlarged. At this time, employees will be hungrier than ever for information and answers:

i) Allow employees to give input. Start by asking more questions and becoming more available. Get employees’ reactions and opinions to the changes. Maintain visibility and make it clear that he is an accessible boss. More importantly, be a careful listener.

ii) Keep employees updated regularly. Just letting employees know that he has no new information is meaningful information to them. Strive to be typical; clear-up false information and rumours that clutter the communication channels.

8) Be Firm, Committed, and Flexible: As change is introduced, an employee must see the change through to completion. Abandoning it halfway through the change process accomplishes negative impacts. It destroys credibility. Remain flexible, because they will have to adapt to situations to successfully implement the changes.

9) Keep a Positive Attitude: The attitude of a manager is a major factor in determining what type of climate is exhibited by employees. Attitude is the one thing that keeps an employer in his control. Change can be stressful and confusing. Try to remain upbeat, positive, and enthusiastic. Foster motivation in others. During transition and change, try to compensate employees for their extra effort.

10) Rewarding Employees: Management often uses techniques such as modelling and also rewarding the appropriate behaviours to implement change. The modelling and the rewarding process have to be constant throughout the organisation.


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