The Role of Senior Managers as Barriers to Change

It is often the case that when change programs are initiated in firms, there is a level of resistance from senior managers due to a number of reasons. These range from protecting their turfs to uncertainties regarding their position after the change is implemented and to ego clashes as well as power politics. The ways in which they can manifest their resistance to change ranges from citing time pressures and constraints involved in implementing the change, citing operational pressures in bureaucratic and mechanistic organizations where the rigid structure does not lend itself to change and finally, by pointing out earlier instances of change that have failed. The point to note is that it is human nature to be comfortable with the status quo and hence barriers to organizational change are psychological more than anything else.

In the case of senior managers, the barriers to change arise because they would want to protect their turfs, resist change because it has been initiated by a rival power group and finally, there is a tendency to resist change because the senior managers do not see a role for them after the change is implemented.

It needs to be remembered that while bad strategies result in failed change initiatives, good strategies without proper execution and implementation lead to the same result. Hence, it is not enough to have a good strategy in place if there is no viable means of execution and implementation.

When we discuss about the barriers of change from senior managers, we need to distinguish between the levels of managers. This is necessary as the barrier to change is different at each level. For instance, the front line managers often resist change because they fear for their positions post change. Since these managers are vulnerable to the changes wrought by technology where their positions become obsolete because of automation, the front line managers tend to resist change because of this aspect. The front line managers might also be disinterested in the change if it does not impact the day to day workings or the operational issues. This is the case of the “distance” between the change initiators and the operational managers that can result in the change being remote and the front line managers being unconcerned with the change.

The middle level managers who form the “sandwich” between the workforce and senior management have a pivotal role to play in change management initiatives as they are the ones who communicate the changes to the workforce and in turn have to report on the success or otherwise of the initiatives to the senior management. These middle tier managers often resist change because of inertia and a status quo mentality which makes them impervious to new realities. It is a fact that the middle tier managers in bureaucratic or machine structure organizations have a lot from continuing with the status quo because of the tangible and intangible benefits that accrue to them.

Finally, and most importantly, the managers in the upper echelons tend to resist change because they have personal fiefdoms that they protect jealously. Further, they have big personalities because of which the possibilities of ego clashes among the top management are very real. In cases where the change is initiated by one faction, the rival faction tends to oppose such change purely on personality issues alone. It is also noteworthy that senior managers and managers at all levels exhibit tendencies that are described in theory as value enhancing or utility maximizing (the so-called “agency problems”) which would make them behave in ways contrary to the interests of the shareholders. These are some of the characterizations of the levels of managers and their tendencies to resist change.


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Change Management