Resistance to Change in Organisational Behaviour

Table of Contents:-

  • Resistance to Change
  • Types of Resistance to Change
  • Levels of Resistance to Change
  • Strategies for Management of Change

Resistance to Change

Resistance to change is a concept that describes an individual’s or group’s psychological tendency to protect and maintain the status quo. It is human nature for people to resist change, often because they fear the unknown facts that change can represent. Resistance to change involves employees’ behaviour aimed at delaying, discrediting, or preventing the planned change introduced for the development of an organization.

According to Zaltman and Duncan, “Resistance to change can be defined as any conduct that serves to maintain the status quo in the face of pressure to alter the status quo”.

Ansoff States, “Resistance to change is a multifaceted phenomenon, which introduces unanticipated delays, costs, and instabilities into the process of strategic change”.

According to Lines, “Resistance to change can be defined as behaviours that are acted out by change recipients in order to slow down or terminate an intended organisational change“.

Types of Resistance to Change

Resistance to change takes different forms, as follows:

1) Psychological Resistance

Many forms of resistance are psychological, including perceptions, sentiments, and emotions. Employees are influenced by their feelings and self-esteem. These resistances may not be tangible, but employees perceive them as significant and real. Fear of termination, decline in status and loss of pay are certain factors that contribute to psychological resistance.

2) Sociological Resistance

A group perceives changes as non-essential, and society opposes them. They view changes contrary to the group’s interests, values and norms. Social values are a potent force against change. Society deems them as futile and contrary to established social norms. Sometimes, resistance can be purely political and sponsored by the union. Groups resist changes on various grounds, such as devaluing social standards or disrupting social norms.

3) Logical Resistance

Resistance is seen as logically opposed to the existing approach. Changes are not considered desirable at present but may be beneficial. The technical feasibility of changes may need to be revised. Changes entail high costs and minimal benefits. Management should assess the costs and benefits of changes. If costs outweigh benefits, the change is avoided; conversely, if benefits exceed costs, changes are accepted. Costs and benefits are evaluated over an extended period, considering all types of costs and benefits.

Levels of Resistance to Change

Resistance to change in organisations is found at the following three levels:

1) Individual Resistance

Individual sources of resistance to change reside in basic human characteristics such as perceptions, personalities, and needs. The following summarises five reasons why individuals may resist change:

i) Habit

Human beings are creatures of habit. Therefore, when faced with change, our natural inclination is to respond in familiar ways, often leading to resistance—for example, the transition from day-shift working.

ii) Security

Individuals with a strong inclination toward security tend to resist change due to the perceived threat to their sense of safety.

iii) Economic Factors

One additional factor contributing to individual resistance is the apprehension that changes may lead to decreased income. Moreover, alterations in job tasks or established work routines can also trigger economic concerns, especially when individuals are uncertain about their ability to perform new tasks. Consequently, they tend to stick to their previous routines, particularly when their pay is closely tied to their productivity.

iv) Fear of the Unknown

Changes replace uncertainty and lack of clarity with familiarity. This very experience often characterizes the transition from high school to college.

v) Selective Information Processing

Individuals shape their world through their perceptions. Once they have established this worldview, they become resistant to change. Individuals tend to process information to uphold their perception selectively. They tend to hear what aligns with their desires and dismiss any information that challenges the reality they have constructed.

2) Organisational Resistance

Numerous organisational factors pose significant challenges when adapting to changing environmental conditions. The most formidable obstacles at the corporate level that impede change include the following:

i) Power and Conflict

Change often brings advantages for specific individuals, departments, or divisions, while others may suffer. Resistance becomes inevitable when change leads to organisational power struggles and conflicts. Let’s consider a situation where a change in purchasing practices could help the material management group reduce input costs while hindering the manufacturing department’s ability to lower manufacturing costs. In such a scenario, materials management will advocate for the change, while manufacturing will resist it. The conflicts between these two functions can significantly impede the change process and potentially prevent its implementation.

ii) Differences in Functional Orientation

Another significant hindrance to change and a source of organisational inertia is the divergence in functional orientation. Different functions and divisions often perceive the source of a problem or issue differently due to their distinct viewpoints. This narrow focus exacerbates organisational inertia as the organisation must allocate time and effort to reach a consensus on the problem’s origin before considering how to respond effectively.

iii) Mechanistic Structure

Mechanistic structures are characterised by tall hierarchies, centralised decision-making, and the standardisation of behaviour through rules and procedures. On the other hand, organic structures are flat, decentralised, and rely on mutual adjustment between individuals to accomplish tasks. They are considering these differences, which structure is more likely to resist change?

Mechanistic structures exhibit a higher level of resistance towards change. Individuals operating within such structures are bound by rigid expectations, leaving little room for them to adapt their behaviour in response to evolving circumstances. On the other hand, organic structures promote the extensive use of mutual adjustment and decentralised authority, which in turn nurtures the development of skills necessary for employees to be innovative, responsive, and adept at finding solutions to novel challenges. As an organisation expands, a mechanical structure often emerges, becoming a significant source of inertia, especially within large-scale enterprises.

iv) Organizational Culture

The values and norms within an organisational culture can be a significant source of resistance to change. Just as role relationships establish stable expectations between individuals, values and norms prompt individuals to behave predictably. Resistance is likely to emerge when organisational change disrupts these deeply ingrained values and norms, compelling people to alter their actions and approaches.

Many organizations foster conservative values that uphold the status quo, making managers hesitant to explore new competitive strategies. Consequently, if the business environment undergoes a shift and a company’s products become outdated, the lack of alternative options increases the likelihood of failure. In some cases, values and norms are so deeply entrenched that managers cannot adapt due to their unwavering commitment to current business practices, even when needing help in changing environments and the apparent necessity for a new strategy.

3) Group Resistance

Although individuals may recognise the potential effects of a change on their own, they often express their concerns collectively as a group response. Consequently, their assessment is susceptible to alteration due to group behaviour, thereby making the group itself a source of resistance. Since groups play a pivotal role in an organisation’s functioning, various group characteristics can contribute to resistance towards change. Therefore, it is essential to analyse the group’s influence as a source of resistance by evaluating the dynamics within the group and the vested interests at play.

i) Group Norms

Numerous groups establish robust informal norms that define acceptable and unacceptable behaviours and regulate interactions among members. However, when change occurs, it can disrupt the established standards and everyday expectations within the group, affecting task assignments and role relationships. Consequently, group members may resist change, as it necessitates the development of an entirely new set of norms to adapt to the demands of the unique situation.

ii) Group Cohesiveness

Group cohesiveness refers to the level of attraction among group members and significantly impacts group performance. While a certain level of cohesiveness can enhance group performance, an excessive amount can impede progress by restricting the group’s ability to adapt and grow. A highly cohesive group may resist management’s efforts to introduce changes or modify its composition. Members may unite to preserve the existing state of affairs and protect their interests, often to the detriment of other groups.

iii) Groupthink and Escalation of Commitment

Groupthink is a detrimental decision making pattern often arising within tightly-knit groups, wherein members overlook negative information and a unanimous agreement. This phenomenon is further intensified by the escalation of commitment, whereby individuals persist in pursuing a particular course of action despite recognizing its inherent flaws. The combined effects of groupthink and escalation can severely hinder any attempts to modify the behaviour of a group.

Strategies for Management of Change

The following strategies can be used for implementing change management in organisations:

1) Define Clear Vision and Goals

Managers should define a clear vision for their organisation. This usually includes running focus group meetings with employees to get their suggestions and ideas about strategic direction. Effective managers prepare their employees for change by defining and validating specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-constrained goals for the organisation.

2) Involving Employees in the Change Process

When managers intend to implement organisational change, there is typically a time gap between the discussion of the change at the management level and its actual implementation. Managers often assume they are the sole bearers of knowledge regarding upcoming changes. However, employees may unknowingly hinder future changes by engaging in negative informal communication, commonly known as the company grapevine. To ensure successful implementation of the change, employers must involve employees in the process as early as possible.

3) Interview Employees Regarding Their Feelings

Managers must understand how employees feel about the change. Only when they clearly understand their feelings can they identify the issues that need to be addressed. Implementing change requires the ability to market and sell effectively. It’s easier to deal with an understanding of the buyer’s needs, concerns, and fears.

4) Concentrate on Effective Delegation

Too often, managers must resort to self-protective measures, especially during organisational change. They begin by attempting to oversee all activities. However, they should focus on effective delegation of authority during the early stages of the change process. Effective delegation is particularly beneficial for two reasons:

i) It helps manage and maintain workload and

ii) It fosters a sense of involvement among employees. Involvement empowers employees to share responsibility for change.

5) Raise Levels of Expectations

Now, more than ever, employers should expect more from their employees. It is understood that more work needs to be done during the change process. While it may seem practical to lower performance expectations, instead raise employee expectations. Employees are more likely to adapt their work habits during change, so seize the opportunity and encourage them to strive harder and work smarter. Demand performance improvements and make the process challenging, but remember to keep goals realistic to avoid frustration and failure.

6) Ask Employees for Commitment

Once the change has been announced, it’s crucial for the employer to personally request each employee’s commitment to implement the change successfully. It’s also important to assure employees that if there are any problems, the employer wants to hear about them.

7) Expand Communication Channels

The change process typically requires enlarging the usual communication channels within the firm. Employees will be more eager than ever for information and answers during this period.

i) Allow Employees to Give Input: Begin by making yourself more available and asking more questions. Seek employees’ opinions and reactions to the changes. Maintain visibility and ensure it’s clear that you are an accessible boss. More importantly, be an attentive listener.

ii) Keep employees updated regularly: Let employees know that no new information can be meaningful to them. Strive to be specific and clarify any rumours and misinformation that may clutter the communication channels.

8) Be Firm, Committed, and Flexible

An employee must see it through to completion as change is introduced. Abandoning it halfway through the change process has negative impacts and undermines credibility. Remain flexible, as employees must adapt to situations to implement the changes successfully.

9) Maintain a Positive Attitude

A manager’s attitude plays a significant role in determining the climate exhibited by employees. Attitude is the one thing that remains within the employer’s control. Change can be stressful and confusing, so stay upbeat, positive, and enthusiastic—foster motivation in others. Try to compensate employees for their extra efforts during transition and change.

10) Rewarding Employees

Management often employs modelling and rewarding appropriate behaviours to implement change. The modelling and rewarding processes must be consistent throughout the organisation.

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