Why Do We Resist Organizational Change?
I have searched in the dedicated bibliography for answers to this question and I can offer you a summary of the opinions that I appreciated as significant.
We all already know that people are, by their nature, dependent on their peers, although we all spontaneously tend towards autonomy.
The desire to break away, at a certain stage of our existence, from family, school or any other type of organization that we believe restricts our freedom, determines us to act and create an environment in which we can manifest freely.
For example, the aspiration to the top of the hierarchy in an organization, combined with freedom of decision and free initiative, transforms the human being into a functional adult, for whom the consciousness of his/her value is integrated into a set of expectations, interests, motivations or projections.
Thus, the reason for the emergence and existence of organizations can be explained both by their ability to contain and achieve individual goals of members (more complete, more efficient and faster) and by their ability to respond to fundamental human psychological needs.
Change management is therefore one of the major challenges of today and becomes a constant benchmark in the concerns of organizations.
According to the data reported in the literature, the failure rate of change programs is approx. 70%.
Most authors identify as the main cause of the failure of these programs the opposition of people in the organization, employees and leaders, to change.
In 1995, John Kotter published a study that showed that the success rate of change programs is 30%.
Also, according to an article on change management, published by the Avery Parker Group, more than 60% of planned changes are not implemented successfully, primarily because employees and even company managers oppose the changes.
From then until now, it seems that the field of “change management” has not been “reformed” much.
In the case of an organization, the forces generating change can be:
- of external origin: the appearance / disappearance of some competitors, the development of new technologies, the changes brought to the legislation in the field etc.;
- of internal origin: the aging of equipment and / or procedures, the launch of new products on the market, the modification of the personnel structure through hiring / dismissal etc.
In the specialized literature, there are various ways of manifesting resistance to change:
- open or explicit expression: permanent quarrels between employees, decreased productivity, strikes, negligence at work, sabotage, undermining etc.;
- implicit or hidden (discreet) expression: resignations, diminishing the degree of motivation of employees, delays, illnesses, low morale, etc.
Possible causes of employees’ resistance to organizational change
(according to Eugen Burduș, author and PhD. professor):
- Selective attention and memory. People’s perception of the proposed change in the organization depends on their vision of the world and is influenced by education, concerns, accessible sources of information, age. In such a context, people only partially take over the information about the change, filtering the elements that force them to leave the comfort zone and thus obtaining an incomplete picture of the change process.
- Addiction to other people’s opinions. The people in the organization depend, from a psychological point of view, on the attitudes, behaviour and opinions of other people, formal or informal leaders, and this dependence can lead to delays in implementing the change process and can generate resistance.
- Fear of the unknown. Anxiety can manifest both among employees, who do not know or do not understand how the change in the organization will affect them, and among managers, who may avoid the responsibility of making certain decisions.
- Lack of security. Change involves, at the individual level, getting out of the comfort zone and experiencing insecurity.
- Employee habits. Organizational changes are met with resistance because any change in individual habits requires effort and getting out of the personal comfort zone.
- Economic reasons. People are resistant to changes that lead to a decrease in direct or indirect income.
Levels of individual resistance to organizational change
Rick Maurer, a well-known American change management consultant, points out that two-thirds of organizational change initiatives fail and that most managers in large companies point to resistance to change as the main cause of failure.
In fact, resistance is a reaction to how change is managed, and people who resist do not intend or realize it, but only seek to survive.
In essence, Rick Maurer proposes as a starting point in overcoming resistance to change the question: “What generates resistance?” and identifies three levels of individual resistance to change.
- Level I of resistance or rational level (“I don’t understand”) refers to the informational aspects of change (logical arguments, presentations, statistics etc.) and can be generated by:
- lack of information on the proposed change;
- disagreement with the information provided or disapproval of its interpretation;
- inefficient or insufficient communication of essential information regarding the change;
- confusion about the significance of the change, due to the lack of clarity in communication.
Some of the strategies for overcoming the level I resistance to change are:
- adapting the message regarding the change: presenting the information in several variants, depending on the personal interests and / or the capacity of understanding of the employees;
- highlighting the need for change: clear communication and accurate and complete information on the need for change may be sufficient to overcome this type of resistance;
- use of appropriate language: presenting the change (by answering the questions: “why?” and “how?”) in clear, concrete and simple language, so that it is fully understood by all employees.
- The second level of resistance or the emotional level (“I don’t like it”) represents the emotional reaction to change and has its root in fear, generated by the desire to survive.
Most of the time, the professional environment does not encourage emotional expression, so most people leave these aspects unexplored, or simply are not aware of them and limit themselves to manifesting the characteristic opposition to level I.
Overcoming this level of resistance is achieved at a slower pace, being possible only by recognizing its existence and ensuring a favorable climate for communication.
Some of the strategies for overcoming second-level resistance to change may be:
- emphasizing the advantages of change both at the organizational level (increasing market competitiveness, increasing sales etc.), and especially at the individual level (increasing job security, increasing salaries, stimulating career opportunities etc.);
- ensuring the involvement of employees in the change process: people support initiatives in which they are directly involved and in which they have their own contribution;
- sincere communication: when change negatively affects employees, this must be communicated clearly and honestly from the beginning, in order to stimulate respect and trust in leaders.
- The third level of resistance or the relational level (“I don’t like you”) refers to the personal trust of employees in leaders.
In this case, people understand the proposed idea (level I), accept and look positively at the change followed by the expected results (level II), but offer resistance to the person who supports the idea, due to lack of confidence in it.
Strategies for overcoming third-level resistance to change include:
- taking responsibility: leaders personally take responsibility for actions and situations that have led to tense relationships in teams, thus attracting the respect of employees;
- communication and negotiation: leaders can take over some of the ideas and proposals of employees, thus ensuring constructive communication and improving working relationships;
- mutual knowledge: the leaders responsible for organizational change ensure the creation of conditions, in terms of time and opportunities, of mutual knowledge between employees and their managers;
- keeping commitments: leaders live up to their commitments in terms of actions, results, strategies, deadlines, etc.
For each level of resistance to change there are specific strategies to overcome resistance, their common element being the best possible communication between leaders and employees: constructive and inclusive, honest and transparent.
Beyond the classical approaches related to resistance to change, in Romania there is a specific feature of this problem, given the mentality characteristic of our people: the overconfidence / overestimation of one’s own abilities compared to those of others (“I am more capable, more prepared, more …, than others”).
In Romania, this mentality is dangerously doubled by the underestimation and the lack of trust in the “rest” (other colleagues, other people, society – in general).
Unfortunately, this aspect can only make it more difficult to accept different opinions and increase the resistance to organizational change.
- World Economic Forum. “The report on the future of jobs.” 2017.
- Manual – Prof. Adrian CURAJ, director of the project “Quality and leadership for Romanian higher education”. 2015
- Manual for the course Human Resources Inspector – Author Ane-Mary Ormenișan (Project: “Training of employees involved in management activities and human resources through integrated programs – INSTRUCT – SV”, ID: 118136, contract no. POCU / 227/3/8 / 118136)
- Romanian Journal of Statistics – Supplement no. 9/2014 (Abstract: Dr. Liviu Tudor)