Resistance to Change

“Somebody once said: ‘The only one who likes change is a wet baby’” (Mariotti, 1996, p. 30). We as human beings are always resistant to change if we are comfortable with surroundings and ourselves. We do not like to be challenged with change because of fear of the unknown. “Resistance is a natural reaction to change” (Maurer, 1996, p. 75). In order to fully change an individual’s style of thinking and working, we must understand the theory and techniques in order to break down the barrier of resistance.

There are several reasons for resistance to change from employees These reasons include fear of the unknown, threatening job security, bad timing, lack of resources, no personal gain, and fear of incompetence. Individuals that are resistant to change fear the unknown when they do not know how it will affect their lives and the changes it will bring. The perceived threat to job security is a factor that will cause resistance. People who think that the change may cause them to lose their job will oppose it. Bad timing also plays a major role in the sense that temporary circumstances may suggest that change should be postponed. At many times corporations may be unsuccessful with change because of lack of resources. This includes skills, abilities, finances, knowledge and staff needed to implement the change. Employees may also be resistant because they have no perception of personal gain with the change. People who think that change will not benefit them personally and fairly are certain to resist it. And last but not least, one of most important resisters to change is fear of incompetence. Some people may fear they will not be able to handle the new job requirements (Grimaud, 1994).

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The real cause of reengineering failure is not the resistance to change itself but inability of management to deal with it. Achieving change means responding to key factors – including emotions like fear and anger – which drive human beings behavior in jobs. Change is painful. When people are pushed to change, they push back. All changes, no matter how beneficial they may seem, cost someone something. Resistance to change is natural and inevitable. Two thirds of reengineering efforts fail due to people’s reluctance to go along and buy management’s own ineptitude and fear. In order for change to take lace management must empower people and listen to their ideas. They must constantly communicate the company’s goals and how they expect to achieve them. Management must also lead by example and be consistent. People will usually believe what they see and not what they hear. It is simpler to grasp and even champion these notions than it is to actually act on them. Unless decision-makers are willing to acknowledge the full range of reaction to change, reengineering is an interesting theory and nothing more (Fisher, 1995).

Although overcoming resistance is no easy task, recognizing the most common barriers to change can move things along. These barriers include:

The element of surprise. People’s first reaction to change is often resistance. Instead of surprising employees with a change initiative, management should involve them in the planning process. This will transform surprises into foregone conclusions (Armentrout, 1996).

Fear of obsolescence. People may resist change that will make their skills and competencies obsolete. Implementing programs to retain workers for new jobs and helping them develop new skills will help management overcome this obstacle. This assurance will make employees more likely to support change (Armentrout, 1996).

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is often the battle cry of those who resist change. The fact of the matter is that many employees will not support a change until they clearly see the need for it. To combat this, start selling the benefits of a proposed change before you ask employees to implement it. When employees see the need for change themselves, they will come aboard (Armentrout, 1996).

A sense of insecurity. When asked to carryout a change effort, employees may be reluctant to try new ideas and opt instead for old methods. Acknowledging the fears that change can invoke and creating and creating an environment that fosters and rewards innovation can help break this barrier (Armentrout, 1996).

Conflicts in personality. A clash of personalities can derail an intended change effort. Change will often require employees to form new relationships with other workers. With these new alliances comes the potential for conflicts. One of two things can be done to avoid these conflicts. An informal meeting may be called where employees can air their difference or staffers can be counseled that professionals rise above personality differences to get the job done (Armentrout, 1996).

“Today’s managers must visualize the future and engineers the changes to get there.” There are certain steps that can be taken by managers in order to make change easier on employees and gain their commitment. These principles for managing resistance to change from employees are as follows:

Reasoning for change should be shared with employees. Take the time to explain they the change will benefit the company and how it will help to achieve the company’s vision and values. The more employees see that their intelligence is respected, the more open minded they will be to the change.

Employees need to know that management appreciates the difficulties such a change will create. The effect the change will have on people must be thought out and then something must be done to lessen the negative effects.

Communicate all particulars and details as simply, clearly and extensively as possible, both verbally and in written form. Explain in detail the specifics of the transitions that need to occur in order to make the change complete.

Show how the change will benefit the employees. When employees see the benefits it gives them an incentive to help implement the new way. Explain that the new way will eliminate complaints regarding the old way.

When appropriate, identify a highly respected manager who will head the change effort. If the change is big enough, a Transistor Management Team may be established. Others who may not be in management but are respected as leaders may be part of this team.

Allow persons affected by the change to offer their input and to express their needs. Show how their ideas have been incorporated. The more employees think they have a say in the change, the more support the change will have. Use employees as a resource. They will have a wealth of ideas that will help the change go smoothly. Empowered employees are committed employees.

Make sure that the change does not interfere with any other important happenings. For example, “doing inventory in a retail store on the day after Thanksgiving.” Most businesses have certain times of the year that change cannot be done. These times should be avoided.

Where feasible, employees job security should be maintained. If jobs must be eliminated, explain the process of how these decisions will be made. For example, seniority, performance, etc. The greatest enemy to change is fear. Employee’s fears must be diffused.

Training or retraining must be made available to those employees who will need new skills. Training will make employees feel competent and confident in the new way. The new skills will make employees more valuable to the organization and other firms.

Employees require time to acclimate. If change is not rushed and is done at a manageable rate, it does not become threatening to employees. Very often the quickest diffuser of employees enthusiasm is when they feel overwhelmed by either too many changes or too quick of a change.

Top management must behave consistently in ways that support the change. Mixed messages can be fatal to a change effort. If top management says one thing but does another, the employees will regard the change as a joke. Employees focus on what top management does, not what they say.


If things are going well, publicize it. Nothing serves as a great motivator as seeing progress. Listen to what employees have to say. If employees think that their suggestions are not being considered, they will not offer anymore. Companies cannot afford to let a gold mine of information (employee suggestions) be lost.

Employee anxiety is one factor that will impede the success of a change effort. This anxiety can be managed by counseling, Employee Assistance Programs, or even early retirement (Iskat & Liebowitz, 1996).

Implementing change is a proven approach that provides management with a systematic process of dealing with issues critical to the achievement of business reengineering. It helps identify potential roadblocks to change efforts. It assists in evaluating and selecting the persons who will implement the change. It also uncovers possible causes of resistance from those who are modifying their behavior. It enables the change leaders to develop both basic and specific tactics to follow through with the change throughout the organization in a way that will create ownership and commitment (Arendt, Landis, Russ & Meister, 1995).


Active learning is an innovative educational methodology used to help people remove their fear, resentment, and resistance toward change by immersing them in the change process itself. Active learning serves as a vehicle for workers to understand how new knowledge applies to them and their jobs. Role playing, brainstorming, cooperative learning and critical analysis are techniques used in this innovative learning methodology. In traditional lecture-type methodology listening is the predominant means of acquiring instruction. By nature, human beings tend to become distracted and disinterested in this method. Active learning results in an increased ability to understand, retain, and apply the subject matter to working environments. This methodology prompts creative thinking and perceiving a subject matter from a variety of different or new perspectives. Research suggest that these techniques should be adopted in manufacturing education to increase interest, understanding, retention, and application of instructional information (Weitz, 1995).

Resistance is an inevitable response to any change. People naturally rush to defend the status quo if they feel their security or status is threatened. Change is unnerving to most people even positive change. If mangers do not understand, accept and make an effort to work with resistance, it can undermine even the most well intentioned and otherwise well-conceived changes. There is no one strategy for dealing with resistance. Changes take place in today’s workplace and require managers who have strong communication skills to build staff support and strong planning skills to make the changes happen. Managers must also be flexible and adaptable, able to change their own management style and approach to work successfully with the end product of change efforts (Stone, 1995).


Arendt, C., Landis, R.M., & Meister, T.B. (1995, May). The human side of change – Part 4. IIE Solutions, 22-24.

Armentrout, B.W. (1996, January). Have your plans for change had a change of plan? HR Focus, 73(1), p. 19.

Fisher, A.B. (1995, April 17). Making change stick. Fortune, 131(7), 121-123.

Grimaud, A.E. (1994, July/August). How to overcome resistance to change: The “7M Model”. Canadian Banker, 101(4), 36-37.

Iskat, G., & Liebowitz, J. (1996, August). What to do when employees resist change. Supervision, 57(8) , 57-58.

Stone, F. (1995, October). Overcoming opposition to organizational change. Supervisory Management, 40(10), 9-10.

Weitz, A.J. (1995). Change – How to remove the fear, resentment, and resistance. Hospital Material Management Quarterly, 17(2), 75-77.


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