Opposition to Organizational Changes

A manager designs his or her change effort, and then faces the toughest step: the inevitable opposition. History shows that workers have resisted some of the best‐laid plans. A few may openly fight it. Many more may ignore or try to sabotage a manager's plan.

In the corporate world, most people, most of the time, resist change. Why? These people believe that change has very little upside for them—in other words, that change is rarely for the better.

One kind of resistance involves employees who have been with a company for a few years, and have seen flavor‐of‐the‐month change programs come and go: Management launches some kind of change effort to great fanfare. Managers talk up the benefits and explain why this program will be good for both the company and its employees. They make promises, but at the end of the day, they fail to deliver. Nothing really happens, and the whole effort seems like a waste of time. Well, it makes sense to resist things that are a pure waste of time.

Another scenario: A number of consultants analyze a corporate department consisting of 100 people, and they conclude that the company needs just 48 of these people to complete the same amount of work. When an employee in this department learns of the consultants' recommendation, he or she fears being fired or working longer hours.

These kinds of dismal scenarios give employees the impression that change is not good. And employees have no reason to believe that it's going to be better in the future.

Here are some of the most common reasons employees resist change:

  • Uncertainty and insecurity
  • Reaction against the way change is presented
  • Threats to vested interests
  • Cynicism and lack of trust
  • Perceptual differences and lack of understanding

To overcome resistance, managers can involve workers in the change process by communicating openly about changes, providing advance notice of an upcoming change, exercising sensitivity to workers' concerns, and reassuring workers that change will not affect their security.

In addition, managers are more likely to implement changes successfully if they avoid common pitfalls that cause changes to fail. Some of these pitfalls are as follows:

  • Faulty thinking
  • Inadequate change process
  • Insufficient resources
  • Lack of commitment to change
  • Poor timing
  • A culture resistant to change

To implement planned change effectively, managers must understand how to overcome resistance to change, why change efforts fail, and what techniques they can use to modify behavior. Managers can use two approaches to change attitudes and behaviors at the individual level: the three‐step approach and force‐field analysis.

The process of change has been characterized as having three basic stages: unfreezing, changing, and refreezing.

  1. Unfreezing. This step involves developing an initial awareness of the need for change and the forces supporting and resisting change. Because most people and organizations prefer stability and the perpetuation of the status quo, a successful change process must overcome the status quo by unfreezing old behaviors, processes, or structure. This approach includes the use of one‐on‐one discussions, presentations to groups, memos, reports, company newsletters, training programs, and demonstrations to educate employees about an imminent change and help them see the logic of the decision. Deficiencies in the current situation are identified and the benefits of the replacement are stressed.
  2. Changing. This step focuses on learning new behaviors. Change results from individuals being uncomfortable with the identified negative behaviors and being presented with new behaviors, role models, and support. In this phase, something new takes place in a system, and change is actually implemented. This is the point at which managers initiate change in such organizational targets as tasks, people, culture, technology, and structure. When managers implement change, people must be ready.
  3. Refreezing. Refreezing centers on reinforcing new behaviors, usually by positive results, feelings of accomplishment, or rewards. After management has implemented changes in organizational goals, products, processes, structures, or people, they cannot sit back and expect the change to be maintained over time. Behaviors that are positively reinforced tend to be repeated. In designing change, attention must be paid to how the new behaviors will be reinforced and rewarded.

One of the earliest and most fundamental models of change, the Force‐Field Analytic Problem‐Solving Model, was developed by behavioral scientist Kurt Lewin in the 1940s. Since that time, this model has been widely used as a technique for encouraging groups of people to tackle organizational issues that previously seemed too complex or too deeply rooted to approach.

Force‐field analysis depicts the change process as one that must overcome a person's or organization's status quo or existing state of equilibrium—the balance between forces for change and forces that resist change. In any problem situation, the existing condition (status quo) has been reached because of a number of opposing forces. The change forces are known as drivers. (Drivers push toward a solution to the problem.) Other forces are known as resisters. (Resisters inhibit improvement or solution of the problem.) When the strength of the drivers is approximately equal to the strength of the resisters, a balance or status quo is apparent. Until the relative strength of the forces is changed, the problem will continue to persist.

When a change is introduced, some forces drive it and other forces resist it. To implement a change, management should analyze the change forces. By selectively removing forces that resist change, the driving forces will be strong enough to enable implementation. As resistant forces are reduced or removed, behavior will shift to incorporate the desired changes.

To apply the model to a problem, a manager should follow these steps:

  1. Carefully and fully specify the problem (status quo). A problem may be defined as the difference between what currently exists and what should exist.
  2. Define objectives. A manager must consider what the situation will be like when it's solved.
  3. Brainstorm to determine the driving and resisting forces that contribute to the problem.
  4. Analyze these forces more fully and develop a strategy. This strategy should be aimed at strengthening the driving forces under a manager's control and weakening the resisting forces that a manager can realistically do something about.
  5. Compare strategy against company or departmental objectives. A manager must consider whether his or her problem‐solving strategy will promote a change in the status quo.

Culture and people change in an organization refers to a shift in employees' values, norms, attitudes, beliefs, and behavior. Changes in culture and people pertain to how employees think; they're changes in mind‐set rather than technology, structure, or products. People change pertains to just a few employees, such as when a handful of middle managers are sent to a training course to improve their leadership skills. Culture change pertains to the organization as a whole, such as changing an organization from a bureaucratic structure to a more participatory environment which focuses on employees providing customer service and quality through teamwork and employee participation.

An organization's values—what it holds to be important—are reflected in its culture. A manager's role is to ensure that the appropriate values are promoted, creating a positive organizational culture. The result is a thriving work environment with happy, motivated, and productive employees.

If managers want to take stock of their organizational culture, they should take the following steps:

  1. Identify the values that currently exist.
  2. Determine whether these values are the right ones for your organization.
  3. Change the actions and behaviors by which these values are demonstrated.

If a manger doesn't like the values discovered in step two, he or she does have options. For example, managers may opt to take training courses to learn to improve their leadership skills, therefore effectively determining how to modify their employees' actions and behaviors (step three). If a manager finds that the organizational culture as a whole needs changing, a company may offer training programs to large blocks of employees on subjects such as teamwork, listening skills, and participative management.

A major approach to changing people and culture is through organizational development. Devoted to large‐scale organizational change, organizational development (OD) focuses primarily on people processes as the target of change. Organizational development is grounded largely in psychology and other behavioral sciences, although more recently it has evolved into a broader approach encompassing such areas as organizational theory, strategy development, and social and technical change.

Used to create long‐term policies for ongoing change, this approach applies behavioral science knowledge to the planned development of organizational strategies. Its goal is to change people and the quality of their interpersonal relationships. The aims of organizational development are as follows:

  • Encourage cooperation
  • Eliminate conflict
  • Increase motivation
  • Improve problem solving
  • Open lines of communication
  • Develop mutual trust

Popular organizational development tools consist of consultants, surveys, group discussion, and training sessions. Here's a brief description of some of the more common techniques used at these meetings:

  • Sensitivity training is a method of changing behavior through unstructured group interaction.
  • Survey feedback is a technique for assessing attitudes, identifying discrepancies in them, and resolving the differences by using survey information in feedback groups.
  • Process consultation involves help given by an outside consultant to a manager in perceiving, understanding, and acting upon interpersonal processes.
  • Team building includes interaction among members of work teams to learn how each member thinks and works.
  • Intergroup development involves changing the attitudes, stereotypes, and perceptions that work groups have of each other.

So how do managers know whether OD is working effectively within their organizations? The primary evaluation of effectiveness uses the goals established when OD efforts and strategies began. Based on this evaluation, a manager can identify programs, strategies, and change agents that need to be redirected or improved.