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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Resistance to Change

Why do individuals and organizations resist change ? explain instances of resistance to change in any organization and the effectiveness of management strategies to overcome the resistance.

Ans : The main reason behind the employee’s resistance is the underlying fear and anxiety caused by uncertainties of change. In most situations resistance arises out of individual problems rather than technical problems. Resistance is often because of attitudinal factors and blind spots, which the functional specialists have as a result of their concern for and preoccupation with technical aspects of new ideas.

One of the common reasons for resisting change is the feeling of discomfort with the nature of change itself, which may violate their moral belief systems. Another reason for resistance may be the method in which change is introduced. This is observed when authoritarian approach is used and people are not informed. Other reasons for resistance may be inequity where the employees feel that someone is likely to get greater benefit than they are likely to get.


1. Lack of knowledge : in situations when people do not have sufficient knowledge about the cause and effects of change they feel anxious and stressed and consequently resist to change. Employees also resists change because it threaten their need for security ,self-esteem, competence, status and social interaction. Irrespective of the nature of change it has been found that employees make efforts to protect them from effect of change and the reaction may range from simple complaint and grievances to passive resistance, sabotage, absenteeism an slowing down of work. Resistance to change takes place irrespective of the level of employee in the organization- whether one is white collar or a blue-collar worker.

However, when the change become inevitable, the employees try to offset the facts of change by desire for now learning / experiences and for the rewards that may come with change. In that case changes are requested and sought for by employees. Change reaction effects are seen in feeling of insecurity and the change of working situations or job. Change can have cascading effect when one person receives promotion; it leads to promotion of ten other people’s at lower levels. This is indicative of change reaction effects of a single precipitating event.

2. Selective perception : when changes are introduced employees are more concerned about how it would affect the entire organization. This is often observed when mode of payment is changed or reorganization is done. Also individuals assess the compatibility of the change with their belief and value systems.

3. Fear of Uncertainty : Uncertainty about the effect of change personally and professionally is another reason for individual resistance. The threat perceived by the employee may be imaginary, intended or unintended, big or small, direct or indirect. A number of fears like loss of status, power, income and uncertainty about their ability to cope with work-demand come in the way of accepting the change.

4. Aversion to Risk : change threatens those who like comfort of familiar. Change often requires personal transition where in familiar has to be destabilized. It calls for giving up the status quo, unlearning or unfreezing the person to integrate and absorb new learning. It is interesting that a number of individuals consider change to bring new opportunities. Research findings also support the view that positive approach to change results in opportunities for individuals during the transition period.


Factor built in the organizational system also lead to resistance to change. It has been observed that organizations are conservative and are therefore slow to change.

1. Inertia of a structure: A number of built-in mechanisms provide stability to organizations. Every organization has got its own systems, processes, policies, and procedures, which ought to be followed for uniformity and formalization of the process. Consequently any change in the structural aspects has cascading effect on other related systems and processes. This creates a hurdle in introducing organizational change. In organizations where structural changes are introduced, it takes long for people to accept and assimilate the structural change.

2. Threat to power dynamics: Structural change with ensuing changes in decision-making pattern can destabilize power relationships established over a period of time. Change in decision-making process from centralize decision making process to participative or democratic decision-making process form centralized decision-making can threaten managers affected by it.

3. Group pressure : Group norms evolved by an organization over the years become a bottleneck in bringing about change. It is common observation that a single member of a group accepts change suggested by management willingly. However, his group affiliation with a union does not allow him to do so. Therefore, he is likely to resists change.

4. Blinkered view of change : Any organization consists of four elements namely task, structure, technology, and people. Focus on any one of the elements of the organization will bring about corresponding change in other elements as well. Therefore, change can not have lopsided and limited perspective.

Brief about the organization referring to:

Our organization ECO-CARE & AWARE is a non profit organization providing training and support service to Developmental Sector. Support services includes planning and formulation of developmental projects, technical support during implementation, Monitoring & Evaluation, Training and Capacity Building, Research & Study, Micro Planning & PRA (Participatory Rural Appraisal).The organization caters its best services for the judicious use of Natural, Human and Physical resources.

The areas of activities include Environment, Watershed Development, Forestry, Biodiversity, Sanitation, Minor Irrigation, Biotechnology, Sustainable Agriculture, Horticulture, Capacity Building, Micro Finance, Training and Awareness.


1. Counseling: counseling has been found to be very effective in reducing individual resistance. Individual resistance occurs because of anxieties and fears and by letting people talk through their problems and anxieties can help them come to terms with change. This techniques is used on one-to-one and also in formal communication system with the whole team.

2. Force-field analysis : this technique provides an assessment of any change situation and presents a balance between the driving forces and the resisting forces. The participants are advised by the change agent to identify these forces. While identifying the restraining forces the group develops insight about ways of handling them. In a number of organizations this technique is used effectively to create a shared change processes for thinking through specific changes.

3. Commitment Charting : in any change there will be people who gain and others who lose. Therefore, in order to get the commitment of the people who are likely to loose, it is important to handle them with care, as they will be sensitive to any action. For a change to succeed it is important to have a critical mass and also to minimize the pain it causes to the affected. In order to do that a chart is prepared listing the names of key players and their commitment level to the change. The chart indicates the status of the people who have commitment at present and whose commitment needs to be ensured for change to be successful. Also the people who have no commitment need to be focused for gaining commitment.

In this regard our organization follows the ways as suggested by Watson (1969) to reduce the resistance. These relate to ownership of change, nature of change and the process of changing.

Ownership : resistance is likely to be low if the change is perceived as being the need of and suggested (sense of belongingness ) by those affected by it. And when it has the top management support.

Nature of Change : Resistance is reduced by joint and agreed diagnosis of the problems and burdens, conforming to the core values of the group, offering new and interesting experience to the group, and does not threaten autonomy and security.

Change process : Resistance is reduced by joint and agreed diagnosis of the problem, consensus on the board design of change, listening to “objections’(and learning from them), periodical review and feedback, development of high interpersonal trust and cohesive teams and openness to revision. Various sources of resistance and the coping mechanisms as followed by our organization are discussed below :

        Sources of Resistance                    Coping Mechanism

1. Perceived peripherality of change :        Participation in diagnosis

2. Perception of Imposition             :         Participation and involvement

3. Indifference of top management  :         Active support from the top

4. Vested interest              :                      Fait accompli    

5. Complacency and inertia          :           Fait accompli

6. Fear of large scale disturbance :           Phasing of Change

7. Fear of inadequate resources :             Support the resources

8. Fear of obsolescence :                         Development of skill

9. Fear of loss of Power   :                      Role of redefinition and reorientation

10. Fear of overload :                             Role clarity and definition

1. Perceived peripherality of change : If the executives perceive that the change being introduced in the organization is not critical for them of their unit, they are likely to resist such a change. Implementation of change can be effective if the change introduced is seen as critical and useful. This is achieved by involving the concerned managers in the diagnosis of the issues or problems, so that they can appreciate the need for change. Their attitude to the innovation introduced will then be positive.

2. Perception of Imposition: Similarly, when the managers in our organization see the change as being imposed by the head office, they are likely to resist the change. Such resistance can be reduced by involving them in the introduction of change at several stages. This can be done through seminars, work groups to evolve the various parts of the change programme, and task forces to work out details of implementation. Participation of the managers at various stages of the change increases the commitment to change.

3. Indifference of top management : The behaviour and attitude of the top management are critical in the implementation of change. When top management do not show much enthusiasm or interest in the change, the people at lower level will put up increased resistance to it. The top management so show their interest in our organization by frequently getting information and feedback on the progress of the change, participating in seminars organized to discuss the experiences, meeting new occupants of new roles created as a part of change, providing positive strokes (encouragement and appreciation) on the success experiences, and monitoring the experiment in the significant documents such as the annual report, etc.

4. Vested interest : Change produces some disturbance, and sometimes some dislocation. When our organization creates new units, which are located in the smaller towns, people moving to smaller towns from capital cities will face problems and experience inconvenience. As a result of this they are likely to resist the change. They may, of course, give different reasons, which may appear logical. However, once they go and work in the smaller towns, they do enjoy the change and also see its positive aspects.

5. Complacency and inertia : as a general rule, change produces discomfort. People develop complacency while being in one state. The change of state is somewhat painful. The solution of the problem is to introduce change and help people experience new conditions. Then the resistance usually goes down.

6. Fear of large scale disturbance: In our organization there may be genuine fear that proposed changes is to lead with unpredictable consequences. This is particularly happens when the changes are in sensitive areas, and require skills. As already discussed phasing of the change programme may reduce resistance arising out of this dimension. Preventive sanction such experimentation, adjustment, phasing, etc may be helpful.

7. Fear of inadequate resources: Resistance sometimes increase if the implementation of change requires additional resources in the form of new skills, additional manpower, or budget. Provision of such resources support may reduce resistance. It is examined whether this is genuine need of resources or not. When new units are created with greater autonomy the support of planning, personnel and technology may be provided to help the units to succeed in meeting their objectives.

8. Fear of obsolescence: Resistance to change is high if the change requires new skills and the existing people may feel that because of lack of those skills they may become obsolete. This may be a real threat. Resistance are partly reduced by providing right orientation and training for the new skills needed. Eg introduction of HRD succeeded after the existing functionaries in the personal or organizational planning departments are given enough training in the new function as to make them feel confident in carrying out these effectively.

9. Fear of loss of Power : sometimes resistance is high when there is a feeling that as a result of change some roles will lose power. For example, creation of new planning roles arises a fear that planning functionaries may not get the operational powers. This resistance is reduced when the roles are redefined and redesignated so that the concerned role occupants can perceive that they may have different kinds of power , of high order although different in nature. This involved roles helped to realize the power.

10. Fear of overload : when some people feel that the change will increase their work load, they are likely to resist change. This happens if they perceive new functions are being assigned to their roles. So by clearly defining their roles, they are able to prioritie the functions, and decide which functions can be delegated to their subordinates, the resistance can be reduced. So we organize seminar on role definition and clarity, and negotiation for delegation some functions.


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