Organizational Change and Managing Resistance to Change

Why is Change Resisted ?

Any change anywhere, be it among nations, organizations, societies, or even families is hard to actualize given the human tendency to not step out of the “comfort zone” and hence, resist new ways of doing things and instead, cling on to the status quo.

The change is harder in those cases where the intended audience or the target population is diverse and is comprised of multiple interest groups and power centers. Indeed, in large organizations with diverse workforces and multiple power centers with their own agendas, organizational change is indeed hard to implement and actualize in practice.

Change Agents and Resistance to Change

Having said that, this does not mean that “Change Agents” or those seeking to actualize change should give up or desist from introducing changes into organizations.

On the contrary, challenges should be taken as an inspiration to move forward, and problems should be seen as opportunities that can be converted into solutions and a win-win approach should be the norm.

Indeed, organizational change agents such as the legendary founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, the late technological revolutionary, Steve Jobs, and N R Narayana Murthy of Infosys, in the Indian context, have always found workarounds and solutions to problems and have also weathered resistance to change from within and without.

Of course, it helps that these individuals are charismatic and have a “halo” around them that helps them to actualize change since the power of their words and their ability to “walk the talk” often emboldens and energizes their followers to follow their path.

However, this does not mean that those change agents who do not have such qualities cannot actualize change as more often than not, the real changes in organizations are brought about by “armies of faceless and nameless” rank and file employees who take Millions of “small steps” to ensure that macro level and Big Picture change happens.

Change is Hard to Implement

Even for the legends of business and the Titans of Industry, implementing and actualizing organizational change has been fraught with challenges and problems as can be seen in the way in which the Late Steve Jobs found himself out of Apple, the company he cofounded only to return much later with a bang. Indeed, even in the case of organizations such as Infosys that thrive and pride themselves on their unique work culture and approach to business, on the ground change and real change has sometimes been hard to come by due to conflicting agendas and multiple power centers stymieing change.

For instance, Microsoft is known as a bureaucratic organization and at the same time, a chaotic and unorganized place where processes and approaches depend on individuals rather than on a systemic approach to change.

Indeed, Bill Gates has often remarked how ideas should go hand in hand with actual implementation to make real change happen. For that matter, even in the much hyped and much celebrated Silicon Valley Startups and Unicorns (those startups valued at more than a Billion Dollars), the work culture is often dominated by individual agendas rather than a systemic procedural and process oriented approach.

The More Diverse the Organization, the Harder it is to Change it

Further, what complicates the efforts of change agents to actualize change in large and diverse organizations is that due to multiple levels of thought processes and differences in working styles and attitudes, more often than not, the leaders and the change agents are not on the “same page” as the rank and file managers and employees.

This often results in the Vision and Mission statements as well as important policies being merely platitudes and high-sounding statements without and relevance to the situation on the ground.

What compounds matters is when organizations are geographically dispersed meaning that whenever organizations operate in multiple locations worldwide, there is every possibility that the culture of the employees in specific countries often proves to be the resistance to change. For instance, take the case of the Mutual Funds and Wealth Management firm, Fidelity.

This firm which operates worldwide has often found that corporate governance in the United States is much different from say, in India or China, leading to acute problems in the way corporate governance is actualized in practice.

It also cuts both ways, as sometimes, what is actually happening in the India or China offices is often much closer to what the leaders want rather than in their own backyard where change is hard to implement.

Incentives and Securing Buy-In

This brings us to the point as to how change agents must win over the resistors and ensure that they have a “buy in” from all.

In this context, it needs to be remembered that management and leadership are all about managing situations and balancing competing agendas and interests as well as ensuring that there are incentives for everyone to participate. For instance, in most case of organizational change, rank and file employees often ask, “What is in this for me?”. Hence, change agents must ensure that everyone is motivated and sufficiently incentivized to participate in the change process.

Change is the Only Constant in Life

Lastly, organizational change must be actualized or implemented only after due diligence has been made about the relative success factors meaning that change agents must not rush headlong into introducing changes without studying and assessing the impacts as well as quarters from which resistance can occur.

This calls for a careful approach where the pros and cons are weighed, and the likely chances of the change succeeding are then assessed.

In addition, change agents must evaluate the readiness of the system to embrace change, and while disruption is sometimes good, often, it brings its own set of problems.

In conclusion, change agents, as well as every professional, must remember that “change is the only constant in life” and hence, one must not shy away from embracing it.


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Change Management