Possibilites to reduce the resistance to change in organisations

Academic Paper, 2014
20 Pages, Grade: 1


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Main Text
2.1 Sources of resistance
2.2 Case study
2.3 Resistance within organisations
2.4 Techniques to reduce resistance
2.4.1 Communication Communication methods in the case study
2.4.2 Approaches to motivation Maslow’s hierarchy of needs Adam’s equity theory Adam’s equity theory in the case study Combination of communication and equity theory in the case study
2.4.3 Manipulation and coercion Hultman’s technique to reduce and overcome resistance Game theory Gamification in the case study

3 Conclusion

4 References

1 Introduction

This paper is about the resistance to change in organisations and what leaders can do to reduce resistance to change. Change management is a process of renewing organisations in terms of their structure, direction or capability (Tod- nem, 2005; Moran and Brightman, 2001). Organisational change is almost im- possible to avoid (Meaney and Pung, 2008). In today’s economic climate, which is characterised by profit orientation, competition, and technological progress, change is necessary to gain market shares or maintain a leading market position (Kotter, 2012). Beer and Nohria (2000) put this in radical terms by claiming that most traditional companies have accepted that they have to change or die. Im- plementing change within large organisations can be challenging, however. The analysis of Kotter (2012) is as follows: “In many situations the improvements have been disappointing and the carnage has been appalling, with wasted resources and burned-out, scared or frustrated employees.” Whilst this may sound extreme, Kotter has a point given the fact that 70% of all changes fail1 (Beer & Nohria, 2000a; Hammer and Champy, 1993; Kotter 2008; Senturia et al., 2008). How- ever, this paper will describe methods of reducing resistance to change and use the example of a case study to illustrate the answer.

2 Main Text

2.1 Sources of resistance

People go through a process of different reactions if and when they are con- fronted by change (Kyle, 1993; Jacobs, 1995). Resistance is a process that oc- curs unconsciously in the first place (O’Connor, 1993), because change means going from the known to the unknown (Coghlan, 1993; Steinburg, 1992; Myers and Robbins, 1991; Nadler, 1981). It is a habitual defence mechanism protecting humans from uncertainty and possible dangers (Oldham and Kleiner, 1990; de Board, 1978). This habitual defence mechanism also hinders individuals from adapting to new things (O`Conner, 1993). Resistance can therefore be seen as a normal part of human behaviour (Coghlan, 1993; Steinburg, 1992; Zaltman and Duncan, 1977).

Different models have been developed to understand the reaction process through which individuals go during a change. According to Scott and Jaffe (1988) for example, it is a four-step process consisting of initial denial, resistance, gradual exploration and eventual commitment. Another model named the “Seven Stages of Transition” was developed by Adams et al. (1976) in “Transitions: Understanding and Managing Personal Change”. The cycle reflects variations in the degree to which people feel able to exercise control over the situation (Adams et al., 1976). The seven stages are the following:

1. Immobilisation: The employee feels “frozen” and does not know what he is supposed to do in his new role.
2. Minimisation: The employee continues to work as if nothing has changed - he may deny having a new role.
3. Depression: The employee tries to deal with the new situation and the pressure and feels that he cannot handle it.
4. Acceptance: The employee realises that he could achieve more and con- tinues to improve his work.
5. Testing: The employee develops his own views on the new tasks.
6. Seeking meaning: The employee starts incorporating the things he has learned for himself and from others.
7. Internalising: The employee accepts and identifies himself with the new role. He regains his self-esteem.

(Adams et. al., 1976)

Not everyone experiences all the seven phases. The process for each person is different. Nevertheless the theory of Adams et al. (1976) gives a good impression of how people deal with change over time and what stages they may pass through.

It is nevertheless very difficult to encapsulate exactly what resistance is within an organisational context (Bouckenooghe, 2010). First mentioned in 1948 in a paper by Coch and French (1948), “resistance” became the most familiar attitude to- wards change and many textbooks refer to it as if it were the only one (Dent and Goldberg, 1999). Nonetheless, a large number of definitions could be used to describe this attitude towards change known as “resistance”. Some authors refer to it as “any action that slows down the implementation of change” (del Val and Fuentes, 2003). Msweli-Mbanga and Potwana (2006) describe resistance as a part of an overall process that fosters learning among organisational participants. Brower and Abolafia (1995) define resistance as “an action or intentional inaction that defies, opposes, or sidesteps the rules, roles, or routines of the organisation”. Heathfield (2014) says that resistance to change “is the action of struggling with modifications that try to change the status quo”. Another way of looking at the problem is that people do not resist change in general, but resist being changed (Yilmaz and Kilicoglu, 2013). Bouckenooghe (2010) nevertheless identified a common theme running through 14 definitions, namely that resistance is de- scribed as a “driving force maintaining the status quo”.

In order to make change possible, resistance has to be reduced and the workforce must be convinced that change is necessary, that the problems facing the company are real and that change will solve them.

From a change management perspective, however, resistance need not always be seen as a problem. Blaming resisters is not the way resistance is meant to be understood (Ford and Ford, 2008). Change managers are often so focused on being right that they might not be fully focused on their original goals. They may also fail to communicate as they push forward to reach their goals. The dilemma in this situation is that there is no way for employees to give feedback or com- municate with top management, so resistance is the only way to draw attention to some critical aspects that might not be seen by change management. If change managers are able to understand and learn from behaviour they see as threaten- ing, then they may be capable of improving their change management process and delivering better results.

Consequently, to see resistance only as a problem is to take a very limited view of it. Resistance is a resource that should be used by change managers to improve their work (Ford and Ford, 2008). It is an opportunity to improve the change management process and to learn from feedback in the form of resistance (Schein, 2003; Dent and Goldberg, 1999; Oreg, 2006).

2.2 Case study

This paper will use the example of company X as a case study. X was bought by a private equity fund (the author’s company). The profit margin for the private equity fund should be as high as possible, so some of the companies taken over have a need for change. In 2012, the fund bought an oil production and distribu- tion company in Mexico named X. The company had stayed the same over a period of 15 years and had never undergone any restructuring process. When X was taken over it was more or less certain that it would go bankrupt within a year if no changes were made.

This example thus provides an opportunity to describe the resistance to change in an organisation in an intercultural context.

The author joined the company as an interim manager after its takeover by the investment fund. After looking through internal documents, the author realised that the previous manager had tried to improve the company but did not succeed in doing so.

2.3 Resistance within organisations

There are several models on how change can be successfully implemented in a company and what mistakes change managers should not make (Kotter, 2012; Lewin, 1947 and 1951). Lewin (1947 and 1951) invented the “Three-Step Force Field Change Model” for example, which gives an indication of how to implement change. Kotter (2012) established an eight-step process for guiding change. No matter which approach is used, however, excellent managerial skills are required to successfully implement organisational change (Senior and Fleming, 2006; Graetz, 2000).

Corporate change programmes fail because of employees’ resistance (Maurer, 1997; Spiker, 1995; Reger et al., 1994; Martin, 1975). Furthermore, a study con- ducted by Waldersee and Griffiths (1997) showed that employee resistance was the most frequently mentioned problem encountered by managers seeking to im- plement change. These findings show that overcoming resistance in a change management process is a major task that outweighs all the other aspects of such a process (O`Conner, 1993).

2.4 Techniques to reduce resistance

The following techniques show ways in which resistance can be reduced. Where applicable the case study example will be used to illustrate the answer.


1 Critical on the aspect of a 70% failure rate: Mark Hughes (2011) - Do 70 Per Cent of All Or- ganisational Change Initiatives Really Fail?, Journal of Change Management Vol. 11, No. 4, 451-464.

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Possibilites to reduce the resistance to change in organisations
Durham University  (Durham Business School)
Change Management
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Jochen Kasper (Author), 2014, Possibilites to reduce the resistance to change in organisations, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/279256


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