Resistance to change and potential solutions

Darryl Bachmeier
Mar 13, 2019

Resistance to change if ignored can quickly slow or make change efforts fail altogether. This paper will first go through a case study from a well-known organization and discuss how they dealt with change in order to survive. Then it will discuss common motivations for change, causes of resistance and provide some solutions to resistance.

Motivations for Change

Change is about moving from one state to another. History has shown that companies who do not change can fall behind their competition and be wiped out. Sources of change can occur both internally and externally. Motivations include globalization, economic conditions, workforce trends, competition, suppliers, customers, new technologies, legal requirements, and dissatisfaction with the current situation.

Causes of Resistance

Resistance occurs when employees exhibit behavior that is disruptive to the goals of the change initiative. They may act out and challenge the change. This unwillingness to change is serious to the success as many if not most change efforts in organizations fail.

Resistance however must not be confused with readiness. If employees lack readiness, this means they may need further information or skills in order to be ready to make the change.

The resistance could also be valid and perhaps something was missed in the implementation strategy. Those that cause resistance may have unique insight and we must fully understand all reasons for resistance.

At the individual level, people have the habit of clinging to what they know as it provides them a feeling of safety. People go through a range of emotions before than can accept change. Common emotions include loss of comfort, frustration, anger, uncertainty about the future, surprises that may happen, loss of power and a loss of control. These emotions can cause a decrease in productivity, lead employees to ignore instructions, undermine authority or leave the organization. These effects can paralyze the organization.

Emotions are hard to manage. In changing people, you are dealing with their internal belief system. This is their reality about the world around them. We treat our beliefs as facts about the world. Aside from individual beliefs, you are also dealing with values. Values are our moral compass.

If the change goes against the culture norm it is likely to receive greater resistance. At the organizational level, certain factors can affect the amount of resistance that come with changes. The organizational culture, human resources policies, training practices and the work environment are important internal factors. The frequency of changes in the environment can also influence the amount of resistance faced. If the frequency is high then those in the environment will tend to act positively toward changes. Old habits are rarely formed and it is not difficult to overcome. Recent success or failures of change attempts can also be in the minds of employees and can influence their mood.

Solutions to Resistance

The formula D + V + F > R was developed by Richard Beckhard and Reuben T. Harris for handling change in, “Organizational Transitions: Managing Complex Change” (1987). D (Dissatisfaction), V (Vision), and F (Feasibility) will overcome R (Resistance). Dissatisfaction is the need to show that the current state of affairs is not working. Vision is the plan for the future that will bring about positive value to the organization. Feasibility is the strategies to turn the plan into action. Resistance, not all resistance to change is a bad thing. If the change is in fact bad for the organization, those resisting may have the insight to see this and in fact help the organization.

Key solutions to resistance seem to follow leadership, management, communication, relationships and attributes of the change. Those in charge of making the change happen must show strong leadership to lead the people through the change. Management should be attuned to the strengths, weaknesses and threats of the organization by using tools such as SWOT analysis.

Keeping lines of communication open is a necessity. Good communication helps to remove the unknown element, which can cause employees to panic. The quality of communication and the method of delivery such as in-person versus email can greatly influence the message received by the audience. There is a need to discover the concerns of those involved and try to address them. We must attempt to answer all potential questions.

A higher quality of management employee relationship directly affects success of change. Relationships help to ensure trust and forming strong relationships before changes occur can help their success. It may not be the change but those who are trying to implement it where issues may arise.

Employees may not work well with those responsible for the change. Individuals adapt to change at their own pace and they should not be made to feel that the change is being forced upon them. To increase the chance of the change being successful employees need to be on board and want the change.

Attributes of the change can also come into play. Changes should not be too complex as it can quickly overwhelm those involved. It is better to complete a series of smaller changes over a longer timeframe.

Resistance can be a serious threat to any change effort. It is important to fully understand the resistance and where it is coming from. Resistance can lead to many issues and effort should be made to follow best practices to mitigate risk. In-depth knowledge about the organization and its culture can help management to know what to do to help changes succeed. We must consider employees as individuals who have their own emotions, values and motivations for changes to either succeed or fail. By means of both SWOT analysis and the resistance formula D + V + F > R are two great first steps to allow change to occur successfully.

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