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Change and Resistance

M.J. Arul

Change often engenders perceptions of ambiguity and insecurity, leading to feelings of anxiety and fear. These feelings underlie the numerous cases of resistance encountered in organisations when change is introduced.

Most instances of change in an organisation have both a technical and a social aspect. Having studied the phenomenon of resistance to change, behavioural scientists have come to propound that people do not resist technical change as much as the accompanying social change.

Resistance to change is likely to occur when:

  • those who are affected by the change have not been involved in the planning of the change;
  • the nature of the change is not clearly explained;
  • the purpose of the change is not made clear to the people affected by the change;
  • the change disrupts, or threatens to disrupt, the established relationships with peers and/or superiors.

What can be done to implement change without or with little resistance? Well, first of all ensure that the proposed change is necessary. A change would be called for where there is dissatisfaction with the status quo. Be clear about the objective(s) and the desired impact of the change. Then let the people who are going to be affected by the change have a say in the planning; explain to them the technical aspects involved in the change in terms easily understood by them; ensure that the change does not entail radical changes in the social relationships of people who are to adopt the change. Explain also the anticipated benefits.

When you have done all that, if you still notice some resistance, do not attempt to quell it straight away. It is worthwhile to view the resistance as a signal that something is wrong. Review and re-examine the situation so as to identify the cause, which may be some technical imperfection or social disruption.

The following propositions, gleaned from elsewhere, are useful guidelines for one who plans to introduce any change in an organisation:

Change is more acceptable ...

  • if it has been planned than if it is "experimental";
  • when it is understood than when it is not;
  • when it does not threaten security than when it does;
  • when those affected have helped create it than when it has been externally imposed;
  • when it results from an application of previously established impersonal principles than when it is dictated by a personal order;
  • when it follows a series of successful changes than when it follows a series of failures;
  • when it is inaugurated after prior change has been assimilated than when it is inaugurated during the confusion of other major change(s);
  • to people new on the job than to people old in the job;
  • to people who share in the benefits of change than to those who do not;
  • if the organisation has been trained to accept change.

In attempting to introduce any change in your organisation, therefore, it is in order and indeed wise to bear in mind the foregoing considerations and carry out a force-field analysis of the situation: Choose the objective, locate the status quo, identify the facilitating as well as the hindering forces and work out ways to strengthen the former and remove or weaken the latter.

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