Managing Resistance to Change

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While some resistance to change is inevitable, most resistance can be managed and actually is beneficial. In order to manage resistance to change, managers must first understand what attributes to the resistance and how the resistance is beneficial. Resistance to change can be healthy, because it forces you to check your assumptions and clarify what you are doing, as well as how you are planning to achieve it. The many reasons for resistance are explored and practical solutions, based on findings of research studies, are offered.

How to Manage Resistance to Change

It was once stated by Gerard Egan (1988) that there are three certain things in life: death, taxes, and resistance to change. David Foote (2001) is quoted as saying “resistance to change is one of the nastiest, most debilitating workplace cancers.” However, Fine (1986, pp 88-89) states that some resistance to change may even be positive because it sometimes slows down the speed with which innovation might otherwise proceed and allows time for people to adjust to it. To manage resistance to change effectively, administrators must understand that resistance to change is inevitable and they must allow for some resistance when they are planning to implement a change, big or small. Management also must understand not just what the employee is feeling or thinking, but why their initial response to a new proposal resulted in an acceleration of negative behavior such as decreased job performance or sabotage. Knowing the possible reasons for resistance is needed in order to effectively manage the change, and the resistance that comes along with it. As a general rule, it is not the proposed changes that people resist, but the impact the changes will have on them, personally. People become comfortable in their jobs, in their areas of expertise, and in their relationships with coworkers and managers. Even when personnel are not very satisfied with the current workplace and therefore welcome change, they may find change to be stressful. Helping employees anticipate difficulties and informing them of how those challenges will be handled can be a source of comfort to them. When an organization proposes large-scale change, those affected begin to worry about how their jobs will change, what new skills they will need, if their responsibilities will change, how established lines of communication will be altered, and how working relationships will change. The most successful members of a company may feel threatened because they were able to perform so well under the old organizational structure. And this resistance is not limited to employees—managers and executives may be just as prone as employees to experiencing problems with radical organizational change. So what causes people to resist change? As shown in figure one, there can be many reasons for resistance and many times, the reason is simple…. personal fear. According to Robbins and Coulter (2007), people resist change for an abundance of reasons such as uncertainty, habit, concern over personal loss, and the belief that the change is not in the organizations best-interest. When change occurs it replaces the known with the unknown which is one of the driving forces to resistance. Although personal fear is not always the reason, it is usually the most obvious. Employees tend to feel anxious about the change and how it will affect them, their job performance, and relationship with other employees, as well as other job related factors such as security. Fear of the unknown is a normal and rational response to change, as opposed to an irrational response. A small amount of apprehension should be expected from most people when the status quo shifts, because people need time to adjust their thinking, job performance, and social relationships to any changes made. Another reason for resistance to change is that we do things out of habit, because human beings are creatures of habit. Life is complex enough and we do...
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