It takes thoughtful and strategic change management for businesses to stay vital and relevant over time. But employees’ resistance to change – whether it shows up in lagging productivity, more transfer requests or resignations, or just out-and-out hostile attitudes – can throw substantial roadblocks in the way of the process and success.
Why is there such a resistance to organizational change and what are its sources? There can be a lot of reasons.
Many people perceive change as a loss of something they valued. If the organization’s structure and culture are evolving, they may fear losing status. Others may distrust the change agent whose motives are believed to be personal benefit and not to benefit the organization. Yet others can’t perceive the value of the change.
People become upset if they perceive a lack of communication and respect from their supervisors, union representatives or co-workers, and may feel they have no opportunity to meaningfully participate in decision-making.
This perceived lack of communication makes it critical in change management to ensure good two-way communications are taking place and to provide opportunities for participation in decision-making so everyone's voice can be heard.
Because of their fear of change, some people do not want to give up a work activity they are competent doing. The prospect of change may make them feel incompetent at the new process and vulnerable, Samuel Bacharach, co-founder of Bacharach Leadership group said in an article on Inc.com.
In a lecture on Strategic Change Leadership, Michigan State University Professor Dr. Cynthia Devers, said people may prefer to be competent even when doing the wrong things rather than be incompetent when doing the right things. That fear is one of the biggest barriers to organizational change.
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Several key methods can be employed to reduce resistance to change.
One is to use change agents whose characteristics are similar to targets of the change. Change agents will be much better received if they share characteristics with the people whose work environment will be changed.
For example, if you’re trying to effect change in a union environment, change agents who have been in involved in organized labor and can relate to the culture and circumstances are very helpful.
"So if you use change agents that have characteristics that are similar to those individuals who are trying to get to change, often times they are going to be more well-received than if they are very different," Dr. Devers said.
Another option is to use dramatic ceremonies and symbols to signal disengagement from the past. Organizations do everything from burning policy manuals to tearing down buildings and putting up new ones to demonstrate leaving the past and moving toward the future. This is best when supported by widespread communication about the change and ensuring that people understand its rationale.
The key is to broadly communicate information about the change and make sure people understand it.
It’s critical to involve those affected by the change. If people feel involved in planning for the change, are invited to participate and have a voice in the process, they’re much more likely to commit to the changes and engage others to do the same. At the same time, it’s critical to get people on board who have leadership in the organization or solid credibility. They will be very influential creating buy-in, particularly among those who resist the change.
Finally, change will be far less successful when sufficient resources are not committed to seeing it through. Whether those resources are financial, new processes or training in the new processes, by not investing what it takes for success makes it too easy for people to resist change.
You also need to listen to those who feel they are losing something in the change and giving up part of their past.
"And sometimes you just need to let people take a piece of the past with them. You can’t close the door completely on the past, particularly if you’ve got a very strong culture that people are wedded to," Dr. Devers said.