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Managing Resistance to Change Essays

Managing Resistance to Change

Executive Summary
Resistance to change could be a major barrier to change if change leaders ignored it, that’s why change leaders should understand it and find ways to overcome it to effectively implement their change initiatives. Hence, the skill to reduce resistance to change is a necessary change management skill for leaders to guarantee the success of their change initiatives.
This paper aimed at answering two main questions. First one, is it real that resistance to change is the default response or reaction to any change? And it was found that resistance is not the default response and willing to change is the default response when expectations were found to be positive. This supports the strategy suggested by Maurer [2008] –to turn this resistance into support through three levels; “(1) making a case to make people know the need for this change, (2) removing as much of the fear and stressing on what’s positive about the change, and (3) rebuilding damaged relationships”- to involve employees and manage expectations.
It was obvious that the resistance gap starts to increase when the management “adopt top-bottom change management models without taking people issues in consideration –without adopting another bottom-up change model- this creates a gap between sources of resistance and the organizational efforts devoted to each source in the change initiative”. (Marcus & Siegal, 2008, p.6)
The second question was ‘is it enough to focus on resistance to change (understand it and adopt strategies to overcome it); or are there any other alternatives or options? -In another word, should managers focus on reducing or overcoming resistance to change or –otherwise- to promote readiness to change among their employees?’-. The answer was adopting proactive strategies (alternatives) to overcome resistance while planning for the change and even before that is more positive and effective than adopting reactive strategies to reduce or overcome resistance because in reactive strategies, the damage already happened.
The fact that resistance is more about personal reasons -and the biggest reason is ignoring to take people issues in consideration during planning for the change- shows that an appropriate organizational climate with healthy relationships is a good basis to overcome resistance from the beginning.
It is important to realize that “only a win-win solution will give change a chance to succeed. The win-win solution –according to Schoor (2003)- requires that top-down and bottom-up change actions are synchronized” (p.8),
Common requirements embedded in suggested strategies are communication about the change, persuasion, influencing, trust, support, understanding, motivation, building relationships. After all, these are the characteristics of an effective leader; which supports the need for effective leaders during the change management process. This way the organization could guarantee the success of the change initiative.

I-      Introduction
In our new reality, change is not a luxury any more; it is a must to survive in our dynamic global economy. Therefore, “change initiatives are made to keep up the pace with this changing environment and the challenging competition.”(Khan & Rehman, 2008, p.3)
However, organizations face the challenge of resistance to change which could be logical due to the fact that “people differ in how they respond to change. Whereas some gladly embrace the notion of change and actively seek it out, others tend to avoid it when possible and resist it otherwise.” (Oreg et al., 2008, p.936)
It is important to realize the fact that –according to Atkinson (2005)- “90% of culture change initiatives fail in achieving their objectives while about more than 50% of these ventures fail to achieve the main designed objectives” (p.14). Not to mention that, research showed that reasons of this failure was due to resistance to change in the first place.
Other research results support these facts. For example, Qureshi & Davis (2007) mentioned a survey of 4,300 US companies that found 54% of managers identified resistance as the main impediment to change” (p.1). Also, Collerette & Schneider & Legris (2003) found that “only 25% of managers described their experience of organizational change as a success” (p.59). Especially if we added the fact that “resistance to change can slow implementation (of the change), degrade benefits and in some cases cripple the entire project (the change) and it was cited the number two obstacle in the 2007 study.” (Prosci [2008]),
That’s what makes the skill of reducing resistance to change a necessary skill for change leaders. If change leaders understood why people resist and ways to overcome this resistance, the change process may go much smoother and faster.
However, on the other side, is it real that resistance to change is the default response or reaction to any change? Is it enough to focus on resistance to change (understand it and adopt strategies to overcome it); or are there any other alternatives or options? -In another word, should managers focus on reducing or overcoming resistance to change or –otherwise- to promote readiness to change among their employees?- This paper aims at answering these questions. The paper is divided into two main sections, literature review and discussion and conclusion.
    II-      Literature Review
The literature showed that most researchers agreed that ‘resistance to change’ is a major barrier to change and that traditional Lewin’s model is an appropriate basis to understand the change management in general and the resistance to change in specific. The “majority of researches in ‘the resistance to change’ aimed at developing ways to overcome resistance to change.” (Giangreco, 2002, p.6). Almost all literature stated that managing resistance to change or the ability to reduce resistance to change is a crucial change management skill or competence for change leaders.
Giangreco (2002) gave a working definition of the term and defined it as: “a form of organizational dissent to a change process (or practices) that the individual considers unpleasant or disagreeable or inconvenient on the basis of personal and/or group evaluation.” (p.14) Milgrom (2002) added “resistance can range in ferocity from politicking and rent seeking within the organization to strike on a large scale. It can be as subtle as reduction of individual or group coordinated productive inputs or as harsh as key personnel quitting. All these effects harm productivity and hence create very real costs for the firm.” (p.2)
Concerning the first question whether ‘resistance to change’ is the default response or reaction to change or not, it was surprising to find that there were some researchers who questioned the general view of resistance to change. For example, Gravenhorst (2003) found that “willingness to change is the general response in the organizations studied” (p.2) “and that resistant is not a standard response to organizational change.” (p.14) Amba-Rao (1989) also found that “employees’ resistance didn’t appear to be a predominant reaction; there were several concerns and expectations on the part of the employees in anticipating and being prepared for the change” (p.4)
Gravenhorst (2003) found that “people do not resist change; they resist being excluded from a change process that affects every aspect of the organization, including their work” (p.15). While, other researches showed that people resist the loss which is embedded in the change.
This result is confusing because it questions the general view of resistance to change or the general rule discussed in the change management literature. When logical reasons behind this result were searched, the answer was that “the author investigated six organizations and he found that three quarters of respondents in five of them had positive or very positive expectations of the outcome of the change processes” (Gravenhorst, 2003, p.14). Now, after realizing this fact, the research result seemed to be more logical.
So, it is crucial to realize what is that people resist. Gravenhorst (2003) found that “it is not the change itself that people criticize; it is top-down change approaches and the conduct of change managers and top managers that seem to be the primary focus of resistance” (Gravenhorst, 2003, p.15). This –somehow- supports the fact that resistance to change is based on personal reasons.
Gaylor (2001) found “a significant positive relationship between employee’s trust in management and their participation in decision making as well as communication and information system in the organization” (p,23) Pardo & Martínez (2003). Suggested that “the more radical and transformational change is, the more powerful resistance to change is.” (p.11)
It is necessary for change leaders to understand that they shouldn’t and couldn’t eliminate all resistance to change. Many researchers -(Lorenzi & Riley & Dewan (2001) for example- assured that “the aim of effective change management techniques is not to eliminate all resistance because it is impossible. So, aims could be: (1) keep initial general resistance at reasonable level, (2) to prevent that initial resistance from growing to serious levels, and (3) to identify and deal with any pockets of serious resistance that do occur despite the previous efforts.” (Lorenzi & Riley & Dewan, 2001, p.1301)
On the other side, there were researchers who challenged the Lewinian model (Collerette & Schneider & Legris, 2003) and the general view of resistance (Gravenhorst, 2003). Some of them suggested alternatives to Lewin’s model, because “for a fast paced world, the resistance to change is critical as the traditional episodic Lewinian approach: unfreeze, change and re-freeze, is too slow and costly. (Burtom & Lauridsen & Obel, 1999, p.3)
Collerette & Schneider & Legris (2003) suggested a three stages change process (awakening, transition, ritualization) as an alternative to the traditional Lewin’s model (unfreeze, change, refreeze). (p.63)
It is logical to know the real reasons, sources, or factors that lead to this dissent or resistance to change is.  According to Atkinson (2005), “we must examine the reasons why people resist change in order to help transition” (p.16). There are enormous research efforts that discussed reasons, sources or factors of resistance. According to Regevm G. & Gause, D. C. & Wegmann, A. (2006), “to understand resistance to change, it is necessary to see norms that both enable and constrain change.” (p.2)
Research showed that “inept management strategies can cause resistance to change to accelerate” (Baker, 1989, p.61). Above all of these strategies, “adopting top-bottom change management models without taking people issues in consideration –without adopting another bottom-up change model- comes on top and is a good reason to create a gap between sources of resistance and the organizational efforts devoted to each source in the change initiative”. (Marcus & Siegal, 2008, p.6)
While, according to Global Knowledge Training LLC (2007), “the majority of studies have found that employees resistance and a lack of proper training are key hinders to organizational change”(p.2).
Maurer [2008] succeeded to effectively categorize these sources or reasons of resistance within three main categories -(1) based on information ‘I don’t get it’ which reflects an information gap, (2) physiological and emotional reaction to this change ‘I don’t like it’ which reflects a physiological gap, and (3) bigger than the current change ‘I don’t like you’ which reflects an unhealthy relationship-.
While, Khan & Rehman (2008) added potential cause of resistance which is “goal conflict between firm (owners) and individuals (employees).” (p.3). Warren (2003) showed that “change overload is what may have inadvertently fostered a resistance to change.” (p.72) And Khassawneh, A. (2005) found that “lack of employees’ participation, inadequate incentives, distrust between employees and higher management, lack of clarity in the goals of change stand as the five highest causes of resistance to administrative change.” (p.15)
By understanding sources of resistance in general and the Maurer’s three levels of resistance –mentioned previously- in specific, it was obvious that it is crucial for change leaders to understand resistance to change and its potential reasons to be able to adopt appropriate strategies to overcome it.
Literature also showed that researchers used the ‘resistance to change’ concept with its broader meaning under which many other problems or phenomena are involved. Some researches discussed resistance and other related terms such as ‘tension’ (Burtom & Lauridsen & Obel, 1999) or workplace ‘conflicts’.
Now, after understanding resistance to change, it is time to answer the question whether it is enough to focus on resistance to change (understand it and adopt strategies to overcome it); or there are any other alternatives or options. There are some researchers who discussed other alternatives. Proactive alternatives were indirectly discussed, while reactive alternatives were directly discussed in more than research.
One obvious fact was realized that it is not enough to focus on reducing resistance and it is already late –during the change or transition phase- to have proactive alternatives -during the transition or change phase-. According to Collerette & Schneider & Legris (2003), “if efforts need to be devoted to fighting resistance to change, this is usually because the damage has already been done and one is in reactive position.” (p.59)
The ‘proactive’ alternative is a good planning for the change taking people issues in consideration and to adopt a bottom-up change management model. The fact that resistance is more about personal reasons -and the biggest reason is ignoring to take people issues in consideration during planning for the change- shows that an appropriate organizational climate with healthy relationships is a good basis to have successful change management in general and to overcome resistance from the beginning in specific.
Collerette & Schneider & Legris (2003) suggested ‘adapting to change’ alternative by providing the necessary means for both line and supervisory staff to adapt to the change it is seeking to introduce.” (p.59)
But, what if this is not the case? What are the potential ‘reactive’ alternatives? Some researchers discussed the alternative to benefit from resistance. Marcus & Siegal (2008) discussed how to positively capture the energy of resistance for success. An interesting finding was that “courageous skillful change leaders can create a social context in which resistance can be expressed to transform the motivational energy being used to resist change into energy to move full throttle towards change goals.” (Marcus & Siegal, 2008, p.10)
They suggested “closing the gap between the four sources of resistance (rational, structural, social/cultural, and individual) and the organizational efforts devoted to each source in the change initiative”. (Marcus & Siegal, 2008, p.6)
So, what is the solution? First of all, it is important to think beyond resistance and to take people issues into consideration during the planning for any change or even for any decision, and to understand why people resist by understanding different levels of resistance, then to create the appropriate organizational climate where a balance between top-down and bottom-up change management models is considered
Haslam & Pennington [2008] stressed on the importance of having the skill of being able to reduce resistance to change and conflict which is a key to successful leadership. They mentioned two fundamental keys that must exist in any group before communication can be effective, understanding and respect. (p.22) then, the presented some communication techniques and group processes that can participate in reducing resistance by increasing respectful behavior.” (p.30)
Maurer [2008] –based on the three levels of resistance- discussed how to turn this resistance into support through three levels; “(1) making a case to make people know the need for this change, (2) removing as much of the fear and stressing on what’s positive about the change, and (3) rebuilding damaged relationships.”
Beside Maurer’s strategies, other research efforts will be mentioned. Bareil (2004) showed that “the model of phases of preoccupations provides an operational, pragmatic alternative to resistance to change, by moving from the guilt-causing paradigm of resistance to a more legitimate and dynamic paradigm of creation of readiness to change” (p.16). This supports the idea of thinking beyond resistance to change.
Bovey & Hede (2001) also stated that “when implementing significant change, management needs to be aware of how defense mechanisms are associated with an individual’s behavioral intentions. Once the benefits of working with the human dimension are understood and accepted, management will be more inclined to develop, promote and implement appropriate intervention strategies” (p.545). While, Baker (1989) discussed “the need for corrective management actions that include providing adequate information about change and being generally sensitive to employees’ fears about change.” (p.61)
Lorenzi & Riley & Dewan (2001) “concluded that “motivated, involved people can make bad systems work and in the same way, unmotivated or even worse, negatively motivated people can bring the best system to its knees” (p.1304)
 Schoor (2003) concluded that “to overcome resistance, a systematic approach, which includes a bottom-up, social and political influence stream, should be used. This influence stream focuses on involving employees in the change event and in creating a change-facilitative environment” (p.1). The researcher assured that “only a win-win solution will give change a chance to succeed. The win-win solution requires that top-down and bottom-up change actions are synchronized.” (p.8)
 III-      Discussion and Conclusion
It was hard to narrow the ‘resistance to change’ topic. The topic is too broad and hundreds of researches were already conducted. If any sub topic such as sources of resistance or ways to overcome resistance was chosen, it will be a waste of time to repeat these research efforts. A trial made to think outside the box and beyond resistance. Right then, the idea was clear to search the literature for something distinguished such as alternatives to resistance to change. This way, the research area was effectively narrowed because there was no single research that discussed more than alternative to resistance to change.
Thinking outside the box, made it logical to have an idea about research efforts that challenged traditional change management models and questioned the general rule or view of resistance to change. This was important to build upon it while discussing the potential alternatives for focusing on reducing and overcoming resistance to change.
In general, “resistance to change is an essential factor to be considered in any change process, since a proper management of resistance is the key for change success or failure” (Pardo & Martínez, 2003, p.13)
It was obvious that the resistance gap starts to increase when the management “adopt top-bottom change management models without taking people issues in consideration –without adopting another bottom-up change model- this creates a gap between sources of resistance and the organizational efforts devoted to each source in the change initiative”. (Marcus & Siegal, 2008, p.6)
The solution could be proactive or reactive depending on the management decision and the organizational climate. Adopting proactive strategies (alternatives) to overcome resistance while planning for the change -and even before that- is more positive and effective than adopting the reactive strategies to reduce or overcome resistance. Reactive solutions also succeeded to capture the energy of resistance and positively redirect it toward achieving the required change.
It is important to realize that “only a win-win solution will give change a chance to succeed. The win-win solution –according to Schoor (2003)- requires that top-down and bottom-up change actions are synchronized” (p.8),
The fact that resistance is more about personal reasons -and biggest reason is ignoring to take people issues into consideration during planning for the change- shows that an appropriate organizational climate with healthy relationships is a good basis to overcome resistance from the beginning and to succeed in implementing any future change initiative.
Strategies and solutions to overcome resistance to change were more about communication, persuasion and motivation, and training. Managing expectations is crucial, especially when research showed that willingness to change is the default response when these expectations were positive. This brings us once again to the importance of leadership. To guide people and show them the way, motivate them to achieve the change. This makes it necessary for leaders to develop their communication, persuasion, and negotiation skills.
The strategy suggested by researchers and especially by Maurer [2008] to turn resistance to change into support through three levels; “(1) making a case to make people know the need for this change, (2) removing as much of the fear and stressing on what’s positive about the change, and (3) rebuilding damaged relationships” represents an effective way to turn the situation upside down by taking people issues into consideration and adopting a bottom-up change management model even after the damage happens.
Common requirements embedded in suggested strategies are communication about the change, persuasion, influencing, trust, support, understanding, motivation, building relationships. After all, these are the characteristics of an effective leader; which supports the need for effective leaders during the change management process. This way the organization could guarantee the success of the change initiative.

References

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Bareil, C. (2004). Managing Resistance to Change or Readiness to Change? HEC Montréal. Retrieved December 07, 2008 from http://web.hec.ca/sites/ceto/fichiers/04_02.pdf

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