How to Deal
With Resistance to Change
byPaul R. Lawrence
Harvard Business Review
How to Deal With Resistance to Change
Paul R. Lawrence
Oneof the most baffling and recalcitrant of the
may take a number of forms—persistent reduc-
tion in output, increase in the number of “quits” and
requests for transfer, chronic quarrels, sullen hostil-
ity, wildcat or slowdown strikes, and, of course, the
expression of a lot of pseudological reasons why the
change will not work. Even the more petty forms of
this resistance can be troublesome.
All too often when executives encounter resistance
to change, they “explain” it by quoting the cliche that
“people resist change” and never look further. Yet
changes must continually occur in industry. This
applies with particular force to the all-important
“little” changes that constantly take place—changes
in work methods, in routine office procedures, in the
location of a machine or a desk, in personnel assign-
ments and job titles.
No one of these changes makes the headlines, but
in total they account for much of our increase in
productivity. They are not the spectacular once-in-a-
lifetime technological revolutions that involve mass
layoffs or the obsolescence of traditional skills, but
they are vital to business progress.
Does it follow, therefore, that business manage-
ment is forever saddled with the onerous job of “forc-
ing” change down the throats of resistant people? My
answer is no. It is the thesis of this article that people
do not resist technical change as such and that most
of the resistance which does occur is unnecessary. I
shall discuss these points, among others:
1. A solution which has become increasingly popu-
lar for dealing with resistance to change is to get the
people involved to “participate” in making the
change. But as a practical matter “participation” as a
device is not a good way for management to think
about the problem. In fact, it may lead to trouble.
2. The key to the problem is to understand the true
nature of resistance. Actually, what employees resist
is usually not technical change but social change—
the change in their human relationships that gener-
ally accompanies technical change.
3. Resistance is usually created because of certain
blind spots and attitudes which staff specialists have
as a result of their preoccupation with the technical
aspects of new ideas.
4. Management can take concrete steps to deal
constructively with these staff attitudes. The steps
include emphasizing new standards of performance
for staff specialists and encouraging them to think in
different ways, as well as making use of the fact that
signs of resistance can serve as a practical warning
signal in directing and timing technological changes.
5. Top executives can also make their own efforts
more effective at meetings of staff and operating
groups where change is being discussed. They can do
this by shifting their attention from the facts of
schedules, technical details, work assignments, and
so forth, to what the discussion of these items indi-
Mr. Lawrence is still associated with the Harvard Business
School, where he is now Wallace Brett Donham Professor
of Organizational Behavior.
Copyright © 1968 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved.
In the 15 years since this article was published, we have
seen a great deal of change in industry, but the human as-
pects of the topic do not seem very different. The human
problems associated with change remain much the same
even though our understanding of them and our methods for
dealing with them have advanced.
The first of the two major themes of the article is that resis- tance to change does not arise because of technical factors
per se but because of social and human considerations. This
statement still seems to be true. There is, however, an...
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