Change is inevitable but is resistance too?

Sep 30, 2015


We’ve talked previously about change, and how like with other parts of life, it is inevitable for all businesses to experience it. In this week’s blog post we delve a little deeper and talk about employee resistance to change/s and how to deal with it.

What is Change Management?

Change management is the process of planning, implementing and monitoring a shift from one state or process to a supposedly better state or process. The fast-paced changes in the external business environment force almost all organisations to adopt change management on a regular basis, in an effort to catch up with the changed paradigms of doing business, or seize emerging opportunities (CIPD, 2014). Resolving people issues constitute the major challenge in managing change. Change is in a sense alteration in the way the organisation utilizes its resources (CIPD, 2014).


How do you know if there is resistance to new changes?

The first step is recognising resistance. Understanding that there will be resistance to change will help you anticipate resistance, identify its sources and reasons, and modify your efforts to manage the issues of change to ensure the success of your change efforts (Lee, 2014.)

Resistance can manifest in a number of ways – persistent reduction in output, increase in the number of “quits” and requests for transfer, chronic quarrels, sullen hostility, wildcat or slowdown strikes, and, of course, the expression of a lot of pseudological reasons why the change will not work. Change produces anxiety and uncertainty. Employees may lose their sense of security (Lawrence, 1969).


According to the CIPD (2014), there are few more common causes of resistance in individuals:

  • Believing that they will lose something (for example, status, power, security, career opportunities, relationships) as a consequence of the change. Or else that the change will cost them more than they stand to gain (for example, that they will have to do more work, but will have fewer opportunities for reward)
  • believing that the changes are fundamentally unfair, prioritising the personal interests of a few over the benefits of many
  • having assessed the need and impacts of the change and have come to radically different conclusions about the situation than the organisation’s leaders, often because they have different sources of information


Is all resistance to change a bad thing?

Many managers and change leaders often perceive change resistance as negative, and employees who resist change are viewed as obstacles the organisation must overcome in order to achieve the new goals and embed the change. However, in certain instances, employee resistance may play a positive and useful role in organisational change. Resistance will provoke an insightful and well-intended debate, disagreement or criticism of change do not necessarily equate to negative resistance, but rather may produce better understanding as well as additional options and solutions (Harvard Business Review, 2008). Resistance to change may be a positive force in some instances. In fact, resistance to change is a valuable feedback tool that should not be ignored (Bauer & Edrogan, 2011).


This week’s managers’ tips focus on resistance to change:

  1. Involve interested parties

    During the planning of change involve interested parties for suggestions and incorporating their ideas. If people are involved in change and understand the reasons for it they become supportive of the whole idea and the change process. If people are given the opportunity to take responsibility and accountability for certain parts of a change programme their sense of ownership will make them even stronger advocates. When employees are involved in the change effort they are more likely to buy into change rather than resist it (Lee, 2014).

  2. Clearly define the need for the change

    Communicate the strategic decision personally and in written form (Lee, 2014). Find lots of ways to demonstrate why the change is necessary. Change management requires a compelling change story – communicating it to employees and following it up with ongoing communications and involvement. One of the best ways to overcome resistance to change is to educate people about the change effort beforehand. Up-front communication and education helps employees see the logic in the change effort. Announce an impending change as quickly as possible – rumours start very quickly. Delivering bad news is one of the biggest challenges managers face (Jacoby, 2012).

  3. Identify the root causes of the change

    Managing resistance is ineffective when it simply focuses on the symptoms. The symptoms of resistance are observable and often overt – such as complaining, not attending key meetings, not providing requested information or resources, or simply not adopting a change to process or behaviour. While they are more evident, focusing on these symptoms will not yield results. To be effective at managing resistance, you must look deeper into what is ultimately causing the resistance. Effective resistance management requires identification of the root causes of resistance – understanding why someone is resistant, not simply how that resistance is manifesting itself (Prosci, 2009).

Have you used some of these techniques or others like them to address resistance to change in your organisation?

By: Curran Daly + Associates


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