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-Why do people resist change?
-What options are available to a change agent to reduce resistance to change? And;
-Is resistance a good idea?
Organisational change is the effect of internal and external sources encouraging a firm to shift its routines, structure, and systems. However, and most importantly the change affecting employee behaviours, with given psychological inferences. (Jones and Van de Ven, 2016). The effect of change hereby leads onto “resistance”. Resistance is considered a product of social constructionism and is something that is constantly redefined throughout the process of behavioural change amongst employees and change agents attempting to manage this resistance. (Van Dijk and Van Dick, 2009).
One of the many key topics of ‘change management’ is resistance and any type of resistance is required in accomplishing transformation, whether incremental or radical. (Pardo del Val and Martínez Fuentes, 2003). Although, statistics over the years dictate that only around 30% of organisational change projects are successful. The remaining 70% fail to encapsulate change and this primarily relates back to the opposition of employees. (Pieterse et al., 2012).
In light of the above, what are the reasons people resist change? Research over the last decade suggests that resistance to change is the manifestation of aspects such as uncertainty to what the change may accomplish. People rather not walk into the unknown but rather be aware of where they are heading. (Kanter, 2012). Additionally, the imposition of new decision making is implemented throughout the structure of an organisation and hereby there is no time for employees to become accustomed to these changes. Humans are known to be creatures of habit. Therefore, the notions of change are usually resisted. Moreover, change is known to create a shift in competence. As structures, systems, and routines change, employee competence will also be a prerequisite to change. (Kanter, 2012). However, this can be a concern as it may drive employees to psychologically question their abilities.
To begin the process of reducing resistance to change, we must first address different “types” of change and which holds most and least value, as well as the change that occurs highly within organisational settings. The table below depicts the types of change that transpire;
The above are some of the major change programmes organisations utilise. However, there are many other types of change discourses. If organisations are to endure change, the above table can help them first establish the type of change required for implementation.
Moving further, there are numerous developed industry frameworks to assist organisations in alleviating change resistance. This section of the paper will examine the implications of these frameworks and how to best utilise them in different organisational settings. We first begin with “The grounded theory for resistance to change” framework, first developed in 2002. (Macrì et al., 2002, p.303). The image below depicts the framework.
Figure 1: The grounded theory for resistance to change. (Macrì et al., 2002, p.303)
The above framework is a utilisation of qualitative data in relation to change resistance. As demonstrated within the image, there are variables of plus (+) and minus (-). Plus (+) represents the positive correlation of two change management variables. However, minus (-) simply signifies the negative correlation of variables, hereby, not to be incorporated into the change management programme. Although, the negatives can be transformed into positives with appropriate strategies.
For instance, if we consider “shared learning” and “fear of switching organisation”, it is negatively correlated. (Macrì et al., 2002). The reason why the two are a negative correlation is that shared learning within an organisation becomes institutional behaviour over time. Hereby, if employees become familiarised with what they have learned over the years of being in business, they would be afraid of switching organisations, not to mention the fear of any ‘change’ that may occur, i.e. processes, change of strategy etc. (Wiseman, 2017). Although negatively correlated it can easily become a positive to ease the resistance of change. A change agent can help alleviate resistance of shared learning with the utilisation of “knowledge sharing, management and capturing”, amongst employees. (Janus, 2016).
Though, capturing and managing knowledge can be difficult. However, a change agent can assist the organisation in implementing, for example, gathering a coalition of employees from each department to get together and share their knowledge on recent changes within an organisation, and how these changes could be strategized. The process of sharing and managing knowledge hereby is implemented. However, it is not yet captured. Capturing knowledge could be executed through, for instance, a localised “online portal” or a “bulletin board” to share and retain this knowledge for the future. If all knowledge is shared, captured and managed appropriately, employees, amongst other “actors” will not be opposed to change management programmes.
Let us consider another negatively correlated variable from the above framework, and then turn this into a positive in alleviating resistance. Reflecting on the negative correlation between “irreplaceability of technical skills” and “delegation propensity”, the two variables can become mutually exclusive in eliminating resistance to change. (Macrì et al., 2002).
The reason why these are negatively correlated is that in some organisations, top management are not wanting to spread their knowledge, competence and their technical skills to those below them. They see this as a threat and hereby withhold on sharing of their “know how’s”. Therefore, delegation is seen as highly threatful and many organisations are failing due to not sharing knowledge amongst the downstream of its hierarchy. (Peng, 2013). Change is only possible if skills and competence at all levels, combined, are extrapolated across the entire business. However, resisting to not share valuable information will only weaken the business model and its change programme. Thereby, the change agent is required to form a strategy that encourages reciprocity and trust amongst management and its employees.
Below is a conceptual framework created in developing trust amongst management and employees and is to be implemented in eliminating resistance. Trust is a vital component of change and required from beginning to end.
Figure 2: Conceptual framework
The above conceptualisation framework can be implemented in leading change projects. However, due to it not being implemented in the past it would remain a paradox until utilised.
Lastly, as established thus far, analysis ‘one’ is based upon a “grounded theory” and how change resistance could be eliminated. It is worthy to note that grounded theory can help researchers to establish positive and negative correlations in the world of social science, i.e. change management. It generates data profundity and looks to make the data analysis more methodical, hereby, making the options, more viable and open for interpretation. (Hussein et al., 2014). However, its biggest shortcoming is that it focuses on issues on a smaller scope. Thereby, the framework (figure 1) can only be utilised in SME’s as steps in pursuing change is not rectilinear and designed for organisations fairly new to change.
Diverting away from analysis one, where the focus was on change management in SME’s and internal aspects, the paper will now focus on change management at a larger scope, i.e. corporate level and how change resistance is to be eliminated. Thereby, we will utilise “Kotter’s 8-step change” model, first introduced in 1995. (AlManei et al., 2018).
The image below depicts the framework.
Figure 3: Kotter’s 8-step change management model. (AlManei et al., 2018).
Kotter’s 8-step change model has been utilised across different industries with exceptional results, as it takes incremental steps in implementing change in an organisation. Step 5 (empowering action/removing obstacles) is a step which can assist a change agent to eliminate change resistance across a hierarchy of a business. (AlManei et al., 2018). However, step 5 is not the easiest of steps, and can be a lengthy process in winning over your employees. Moreover, the table below explains each step in a little more detail.
(Appelbaum et al., 2012)
Although, Step 5 is a stepping stone in removing resistance to change. However, all the steps within the downstream will have its own resistance. Some of the steps have more resistance than others, hereby, not all steps are included within the analysis.
The biggest failures in change transformation relate back to high levels of complacency, whereby, either management or employees are self-satisfied in the position they hold. Step one would relate back to complacent behaviour, where employees and leaders are not creating a sense of urgency that the business needs to develop and/or move forward due to being too comfortable. Therefore, businesses may feel resistance with complacent behaviour up and down the hierarchy and eventually fail before they even begin changing. (Kotter, 1996). In removing complacency, the business could potentially introduce an incremental reward system offered to all employees at each step of the change, at all levels and this strategy would be utilised as a motivator. However, the business may face further losses if the change programme fails to follow through. Although, this is less likely if all ‘actors’ within the business are joining forces to change.
Under-communication (step four) is another variable that relates back to the resistance of change. There are different forms of under-communication of your new vision/strategy. It is led by various departmental teams that formulate a vision and propose this to a few people/teams. However, propositioning a strategy to a small number of individuals and neglecting the rest is what causes the resistance. Organisations, when going through change, tend to utilise traditional methods of communication, i.e. regular meetings, speeches etc. (Kotter, 1996). Although, as opposed to using traditional methods, a change agent can help the organisation communicate more consistently, which should include Skype (if the organisation is multinational), use of intranets, displaying posters to remind all of the change, bulletin’ boards etc. and communication regarding change should be constant. It should not stop until change is achieved. (Frahm and Brown, 2007). However, dejection of change is never worse when communication is ineffective by important ‘actors’ within an organisation. If management and leaders are not communicating effectively, this certainly would have a domino effect across the hierarchy. Therefore, change agents are to encourage management and leaders to utilise the above strategies to communicate effectively in removing resistance.
Finally, we address the most important step and one that causes the most resistance, empowering action/removing obstacles (step five). Aspects such as employees and structures are entities that cause the most resistant in an organisation. Employees are known to resist change due to being stuck in the comfort zone and not wanting to evade that zone and structures become very rigid as organisations develop and individuals within an organisation are inclined to remain within their own circles (departments/structures). Changing this structure would necessitate a disturbance in the lives of employees, leaders, and management. Therefore, they resist change. (Kotter, 1996). However, structural change can help an organisation eliminate resistance. A change agent can introduce “departmentisation”. This is essentially tasks that are performed individually to now be performed as a group. Hereby, individual department specialises in a specific part of the change programme and then all departments create a coalition to generate an efficient vision. Hereby, resistance to change will be reduced significantly if everyone were to get together and think about the change. (Bharijoo, 2007). However, Kotter’s model, though very strong and has revived several organisations in changing.
Although, it lacks information on “personal change”, it only addresses organisational change at a corporate level and neglects to mention actors at the lower level of the business and focuses more on a decentralised chain of command. (Brisson‐Banks, 2010).
Lastly, we shall now address whether change resistance is good or bad. Any form of resistance can either be linked back to emotionality or systematic disruption. However, an organisation should never attempt to resist resistance. Resistance can be looked at from two perspectives, in both a positive and negative light. Positively, the business can continue as usual without any disruptions, as well as investments and capital remaining visible. However, this is temporary. It may last months, or years but it would eventually lead onto failure. Negatively, the business will face an incremental collapse and it will continue until the business falls into liquidation. Therefore, resistance, while may be good temporarily, however, has major consequences.
To conclude this paper, we have established the different types of changes that are possible to incur, and strategies businesses are to implement in eliminating or at least slowing down resistance. However, change is the personification of, not only the business world, but also sociological inferences. Hereby, affecting businesses from every corner. Therefore, change is known to be inevitable, and there is no avoiding it. However, there are strategies, that have been discussed in the analysis, that change agents can help organisations to utilise in avoiding failure. Although, ideally firms of all sizes, prior to implementing change in their culture should scan their internal and external environment.
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