Causes of Change Resistance

It has long been observed that resistance to change is a common characteristic of organizational life. For change managers and leaders, resistance is a big problem that can threaten positive change outcomes, cost lots of money, damage an organization's competitiveness and efficiency, and jeopardise its position in the marketplace. To know how to deal with resistance, it is important to understand where it comes from.

Mostly, resistance is caused by a lack of change readiness. There are 5 areas where this lack of readiness becomes most critical. These areas are:

1. Individual change readiness is weak. Individuals who lack the 7 change readiness resources and whose personal narratives are filled with barriers and problems find change really challenging, and often resist it. They do so because they don't feel confident with change. 

If an organization is full of workers who are low on readiness, that organization will encounter lots of resistance. People become more confident and less resistant when their individual readiness is improved.

2. Cultural barriers are causing resistance. Organizations consist of more than people. Organizational culture is a complex construction involving structural elements (including centres of power and control), beliefs and belief systems (often unspoken and unconscious), memories, stories, relationships, shared meanings, language, expectations, ethics, and an assortment of other things. Cultural issues can work against change and cause resistance. Unless these barriers are identified, brought out into the open, and dealt with, resistance will persist. Organizations become more ready for change and as they eliminate the cultural barriers that give rise to resistance.

3. The approach to change is causing resistance. Distinguished researcher, Dr Armenakis from Auburn university in the US, has observed that workers resist change when they perceive their leaders are not really committed to it (it's just a 'flash in the pan'), and when they can't see any personal benefit from it ('there's nothing in it for me'). Leaders and managers need to 'sell' the change effectively, showing their confidence in the team's ability to make the transition, creating a shared vision of how everyone will benefit, and demonstrating their firm commitment over the long-term. Unless leaders are ready to approach change effectively, resistance will occur.

4. Self-interest is causing resistance. People sometimes resist change because it doesn't serve their own interests. They may recognise it as good for the organization, but if it isn't good for them personally, or for their section, they don't want it. They may try to sabotage the change effort, be uncooperative, spread negative stories, or try to malign the change leaders. This can be a major problem if the self-interested resisters have structural power and authority within the organization. Organizations are not ready for change if self-interested resistance is commonplace.

5. Leaders have the wrong change strategy. Sometimes, resistance can be positive. Leaders don't always make good choices - sometimes they lack readiness resources themselves, and sometimes they work with incorrect information. Senior leaders are often far removed from the day-to-day realities of most of their workers, and rely on information flowing through middle-managers, who may 'gild the lily' to make themselves look better. Workers may resist change simply because they have more insight into the consequences of certain changes than their bosses have. Unless managers at all levels are ready to lead change effectively, resistance will occur.

Resistance is a complex issue with many causes. The critical five areas referred to above include capacity, culture, strategies, self-interest, and leadership. Each of these areas requires careful and skilled attention to detect barriers that produce resistance and seek to compromise change. Sometimes, to get better at change it is just as important to unlearn old things as it is to learn new things.

Steve Barlow

Steve Barlow PhD is a change management and organizational development consultant and change readiness specialist. Steve is Director of Redequip Pty Ltd.

Article Source: Steve Barlow

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