Management & Organizational Behavior
Resistance is usually characterized by an opposition to the generally acceptable formats, which result in a change of organizational status quo. However, considering any resistance detrimental for the success of the change implementation does not reflect the full picture of the problem and limits the ability to use resistance for the benefits of the company (Eikenberry & Harris, 2011).
The blame for the resistance to any change is usually put solely on the change recipients. People in this case are considered reluctant to accept any alterations in the organization, and therefore they hardly ever support changes. However, the contribution of the change agents to the change resistance is often wrongfully disregarded. The “agent-centric” theory implies that change agents are objective in making decisions and evaluating the environment, while change recipients are highly subjective and irrational. Such point of view does not take into consideration the possibility that agents themselves may misinterpret some of the recipients’ responses or even provoke hostility to the change. Therefore, it is necessary to consider the limitations of the “agent-centric” theory (Ford, Ford & D’Amelio, 2008).
Firstly, resistance to change often does not take into consideration the sensemaking process of both change agents and recipients. They have to analyze whether the proposed change is going to improve the current situation, or it would only disrupt the existing patterns and create additional problems. As change agents are highly involved into the creation and implementation of the change, it is impossible for them to stay impartial and totally objective. Therefore, their evaluation of the change effects is likely to be biased. Expectation effect also plays a significant role in identifying resistance to change. If resistance is considered a standards response of the recipients to the change, leaders are likely to see it according to the self-fulfilling prophecy theory. Thus, if managers expect that a shift from a fixed salary to the piecework payment is unlikely to be accepted by the employees, any suggestions or discussions will be regarded as a dysfunctional resistance. This argument is also linked to the self-justifying behaviour of the agents. The failure of the change at any stage can be easier blamed on the resistance rather than on personal mistakes, therefore agents often try to divert attention from their mistakes by giving all the fault to the change recipients and their resistance to any alterations. Continuing the example of the payment structure modification, it is possible to suggest that agents will blame the failure of the new payment structure on the employee resistance, disregarding the potential problems with the structure, unfair conditions or inherent worsening of the working conditions (Ford, Ford & D’Amelio, 2008).
However, the contribution of the change agents into the formation of resistance goes beyond their interpretation of the situation and sensemaking. Thus, losing trust of the recipients due to the violation of the original agreements can be the primary cause of the resistance. If the change in the pay system was originally presented as an opportunity to improve salaries, while in the subsequent steps it became apparent to the employees, that the new method is bound to reduce their earnings, they are likely to seek retribution and resist to changes. Moreover, they will not accept any other changes, proposed by the agents, since they will perceive them as hostile and unjust. The consequences of breaking original agreements are especially significant, when agents do not offer any explanation or apology. In this case, the recipients are highly likely to lose trust in their agent and to resist the change (Ford, Ford & D’Amelio, 2008).
The difference between the perceived benefits of the change by the recipients and the actual results may be quite significant not only due to a purposeful breaking of an agreement, but also due to miscommunication and to the failure of the agent to legitimized the proposed change. Thus, change agents should not only prepare the change itself, but also make sure that the preparation and post-change processes are planned and aligned. Moreover, it is crucial to get all the agents on board with the change before its implementation, by presenting arguments supporting the need for change and the potential benefits this change may bring. The thorough analysis of the change by the recipients should not be regarded as an attempt to resist, but as an integral process of change acceptance. In case recipients agree that the proposed solution serves their personal interests and the interests of the company better than the old one, further adoption of the modifications will not meet resistance and will be much smoother and faster. Thus, if an introduction of the piecework payment is well-communicated and the benefits behind the new system are explained, employees are more likely to accept the change positively, understanding the importance of the modified conditions for the organizational performance and competitiveness. Furthermore, change communication should include a detailed discussion of the steps to implement the change. Unless the agents clearly explain the planned course of actions, recipients are unlikely to start acting. In this case, the lack of action can be regarded as resistance, while in fact it should be attributed to inefficient communication of the agent. Thus, if a change in the hierarchy structure is not well explained, people will most likely continue to follow the previous structure and maintain old reporting relationships, even though they have no objections against the new system (Ford, Ford & D’Amelio, 2008).
An important aspect of miscommunication is agents’ inability to present an objective evaluation of the change benefits. This tendency can be caused by an intentional distortion of information as an attempt to excel in the competitive environment, or an unintentional optimistic view on the change, which exaggerates the potential benefits of the new system, while reducing its negative aspects. However, in either of the two cases agents risk to be perceived as untruthful and unrealistic. Thus, showing the benefits of the piecework system and emphasizing the potential increase in earnings, while concealing the associated rise in working hours, both as a deliberate strategy to avoid resistance or as a disregard of the potential negative aspects, are likely to be viewed as an attempt to deceive employees and to lead to a loss of trust and support. Therefore, while enthusiastic representation of the change is necessary for acceptance, the distortion of facts and limited information disclosure may destroy trust of the recipients and become a cause for resistance (Ford, Ford & D’Amelio, 2008).
Lastly, change agents can directly contribute to the resistance by being defensive about the original plan and not considering the suggestions of the recepients. Continuous communication with the recipients, openness to the modifications of the original plan and acceptance of the recipients’ disapproval are crucial for successful change implementation, while the absence of these factors is considered the resistance of agents (Ford, Ford & D’Amelio, 2008).
Resistance can be also turned into a valuable resource for change management. Firstly, it serves as a mechanism for promoting the change in the organization. Even if people discuss the change in a negative way, the word of mouth spreads the idea throughout the organization and provokes discussions and evaluation. Secondly, resistance is a form of employee engagement and it indicates a thoughtful decision-making process. Moreover, the mere fact of resistance shows commitment of people, who take the future of their organization seriously and try to adopt only the changes, which bring improvements. Thus, if the new hierarchy structure meets strong resistance of the employees, it is most probably caused by the their disbelief in the efficiency of such a structure. Resistance can be also used as a mechanism to induce the desired behaviour. In this case, if the change suggests a reduction of the working time, people might resist and improve their productivity, in order to demonstrate that performance goals can be met without the increase in working time. Lastly, as any form of conflict, resistance improves decision-making, offers an opportunity to evaluate the change from multiple viewpoints and enhances employee commitment. Furthermore, mangers with try to avoid such conflicts by implementing anti-conflict management techniques, thus anticipating resistance and eliminating its potential causes. If these practices fail, managers might consider it as a good indicator of the problems with the change itself or with the process of its implementation. Thus, if people continue resisting the new tall hierarchy, it can either indicate structure inefficiencies or point to the insufficient communication from the managers (Ford, Ford & D’Amelio, 2008).
According to Kotter, managers tend to make numerous mistakes when initiating the change, which lead to the failure of the change implementation process. Thus, if managers do not succeed in communicating the urgency and importance of the matter, it will be almost impossible to motivate people to change established practices and structures, and all the change efforts will be useless. In many companies managers fail to create or communicate the vision of the organization in an effective manner. If this is the case, employees will not get on board with the change implementation as they do not see its benefits in meeting organizational objectives. Moreover, the change idea should not only be communicated well, but also lived up to by the managers. If the leaders do not demonstrate their commitment to the new ideas, they will not be able to motivate employees to follow them. Furthermore, it is a common mistake to consider the change successfully implemented before it is rooted in the organizational culture. Although short-term wins are important for keeping up the motivation, change agents should avoid prematurely removing change pressure in order to keep the new processes and ideas from degradation. Lastly, it is a major mistake not to consider the resources, necessary for successful change implementation. If change recipients do not have enough time or financial means, they are unlikely to support change implementation or will not do it in the most efficient way (Kotter, 1995).
The plan to improve change implementation according to Kotter involves eight major steps. Firstly, managers should create the sense of urgency, in order to motivate employees to accept and support the change. Secondly, change process should be conducted not by one person but a coalition of people, who are influential in the organization and who understand very well the needs and urgency of the change. Thirdly, a concise and clear vision for the change should be created in order to show the direction of the organization, to motivate people and to align all the changes and efforts in the organization. In the next step, vision should be communicated to the employees in a way that they can understand it. In case, communication is not successful, all the change implementation efforts are likely to fail. The fifth step involves empowering employees to implement the change by removing any possible obstacles, such as budget and time constraints. Kotter also suggests to develop short-term wins, which would keep the motivation and effort up, and help to avoid the loss of momentum in the face of the first difficulties. However, according to the seventh step of overcoming problems with change processes, leaders should be careful not to announce their success too soon. The in-depth change implementation may take years and should alter not only organization’s current practices, but also its culture. Therefore, if the victory is announced prematurely, the change may degrade over time. Lastly, the new approaches should be made an integral part of the organization by demonstrating the benefits of the change and ensuring that the next generation of leaders agree with the ideas in the core of the change. Only in this case the new way can be institutionalized and remain even after the change pressure is removed (Kotter, 1995).
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