Sources of Resistance to Change

The goal of planned organizational change is to find new or improved  ways of using resources and capabilities in order to increase an organization’s  ability to create value and improve returns to its stakeholders. An organization  in decline may need to restructure its resources to improve its fit with the  environment. At the same time even a thriving organization may need to change  the way it uses its resources so that it can develop new products or find new  markets for its existing products. In the last decade, over half of all Fortune 500  companies have undergone major organizational changes to allow them to  increase their ability to create value. One of the most well-documented findings  from studies have revealed that organizations and their members often resist  change. In a sense, this is positive. It provides a degree of stability and  predictability to behavior. If there weren’t some resistance, organizational  behavior would take on characteristics of chaotic randomness.

Resistance to change can also be a source of functional conflict. For  example, resistance to a reorganization plan or a change in a product line can  stimulate a healthy debate over the merits of the idea and result in a better  decision. But there is a definite downside to resistance to change. It hinders  adaptation and progress. Resistance to change doesn’t necessarily surface in  standardized ways. Resistance can be overt, implicit, immediate or deferred. It is  easiest for management to deal with resistance when it is overt and immediate :  For instance a change is proposed and employees quickly respond by voicing  complaints, engaging in a work slowdown, threatening to go on strike, or the  like. The greater challenge is managing resistance that is implicit or deferred.  Implicit resistance efforts are more subtle — loss of loyalty to the organization,  loss of motivation to work, increased errors or mistakes, increased absenteeism  due to sickness and hence, more difficult to recognize. Similarly, deferred  actions cloud the link between the source of the resistance and the reaction to it.  A change may produce what appears to be only a minimal reaction at the time it  is initiated, but then resistance surfaces weeks, months or even year later. Or a  single change that in and of itself might have little impact becomes the straw  that breaks the company’s back. Reactions to change can build up and then  explode in some response that seems to tally out of proportion to the change  action it follows. The resistance, of course, has merely been deferred and  stockpiled what surfaces is a response to an accumulation of previous changes.

Sources of Resistance to Change

Sources of Resistance to Change in Organizations

Sources of resistance could be at the individual level or at the  organizational level. Some times these sources can overlap.

Individual Factors

Individual sources of resistance to change reside in basic human  characteristics such as perceptions, personalities and needs. There are basically  four reasons why individuals resist change.

  1. Habit : Human beings are creatures of habit. Life is complex enough; we  do not need to consider the full range of options for the hundreds of  decisions we have to make every day. To cope with this complexity, we  all rely on habits of programmed responses. But when confronted with  change, this tendency to respond in our accustomed ways become a  source of resistance. So when your office is moved to a new location, it  means you’re likely to have to change many habits, taking a new set of  streets to work, finding a new parking place, adjusting to a new office  layout, developing a new lunch time routine and so on. Habit are hard to  break. People have a built in tendency to their original behavior, a  tendency to stymies change.
  2. Security : People with a high need for security are likely to resist change  because it threatens their feeling of safety. They feel uncertain and  insecure about what its outcome will be. Worker might be given new  tasks. Role relationships may be reorganized. Some workers might lose  their jobs. Some people might benefit at the expense of others. Worker’s  resistance to the uncertainty and insecurity surrounding change can cause  organizational inertia. Absenteeism and turnover may increase as change  takes place and workers may become uncooperative, attempt to delay or  slow the change process and otherwise passively resist the change in an  attempt to quash it.
  3. Selective Information Processing : Individuals shape their world  through their perceptions. They selectively process information in order  to keep their perceptions intact. They hear what they want to hear. They  ignore information that challenges the world they have created.  Therefore, there is a general tendency for people to selectively perceive  information that is consistent with their existing views of their  organizations. Thus, when change takes place workers tend to focus only  on how it will affect them on their function or division personally. If they  perceive few benefits they may reject the purpose behind the change. Not  surprisingly it can be difficult for an organization to develop a common  platform to promote change across the organization and get people to see  the need for change in the same way.
  4. Economic Factors : Another source of individual resistance is concern  that change will lower one’s income. Changes in job tasks or established  work routines also can arouse economic fears if people are concerned  they won’t be able to perform the new tasks or routines to their previous  standards, especially when pay is closely tied to productivity. For  example, the introduction of Total Quality Management (TQM) means production workers will have  to learn statistical process control techniques, some may fear they’ll be  unable to do so. They may, therefore, develop a negative attitude towards  TQM or behave dysfunctionally if required to use statistical techniques.

Group Level Factors

Much of an organization’s work is performed by groups and several  group characteristics can produce resistance to change :

  1. Group Inertia : Many groups develop strong informal norms that specify  appropriate and inappropriate behaviors and govern the interactions  between group members. Often change alters tasks and role relationships  in a group; when it does, it disrupts group norms and the informal  expectations that group members have of one another. As a result,  members of a group may resist change because a whole new set of norms  may have to be developed to meet the needs of the new situation.  Group think is a pattern of faulty decision making that occurs in  cohesive groups when members discount negative information in order to  arrive at a unanimous agreement. Escalation of commitment worsens this  situation because even when group members realize that their decision is wrong,  they continue to pursue it because they are committed to it. These group  processes make changing a group’s behavior very difficult. And the more  important the group’s activities are to the organization, the greater the impact of  these processes are on organizational performance.
  2. Structural Inertia : Group cohesiveness, the attractiveness of a group to  its members, also affects group performance. Although, some level of  cohesiveness promotes group performance, too much cohesiveness may  actually reduce performance because it stifles opportunities for the group  to change and adapt. A highly cohesive group may resist attempts by  management to change what it does or even who is a member of the  group. Group members may unite to preserve the status quo and to  protect their interests at the expense of other groups.  Organizations have built-in mechanism to produce stability. For  example, the selection process systematically selects certain people in and  certain people out. Training and other socialization techniques reinforce specific  role requirements and skills. Formalization provides job descriptions, rules and  procedures for employees to follow. The people who are hired into an  organization are chosen for fit; they are then shaped and directed to behave in  certain ways. When an organization is confronted with change, this structural  inertia acts as a counter balance to sustain stability.
  3. Power Maintenance : Change in decision-making authority and control  to resource allocation threatens the balance of power in organizations.  Units benefiting from the change will endorse it, but those losing power  will resist it, which can often slow or prevent the change process.  Managers, for example, often resist the establishment of self-managed  work teams. Or, manufacturing departments often resist letting  purchasing department control input quality. There are even occasions  when a CEO will resist change, denying that it is his responsibility to  promote socially responsible behavior through out a global network.
  4. Functional Sub-optimization  : Differences in functional orientation,  goals and resources dependencies can cause changes that are seen as  beneficial to one functional unit to be perceived as threatening to other.  Functional units usually think of themselves first when evaluating  potential changes. They support those that enhance their own welfare,  but resist the ones that reduce it or even seem inequitable.
  5. Organizational Culture : Organizational culture, that is, established  values, norms and expectations, act to promote predictable ways of  thinking and behaving. Organisational members will resist changes that  force them to abandon established assumptions and approved ways of  doing things.

Managers sometimes mistakenly assume that subordinates will perceive  the desired changes as they do; thus, they have difficulty in understanding the  resistance. A key task is to determine and understand the reasons behind  people’s resistance when it occurs. Then the challenge is to find ways to reduce  it or overcome that resistance.

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