One major challenge managers and supervisors face while implementing organisational change is overcoming employees’ resistance. For most organisations, the last decade has been fraught with restructurings, process enhancements, mergers, acquisitions, and layoffs—all aimed at achieving revenue growth and increased profitability.
Today, millions of managers who are asked to implement some changes in their organisations, are almost always faced with employees’ resistance. This, human resource experts, say can be avoided if only managers could apply effective change management approach from the very beginning.
Change can threaten the organisational culture of a workplace and as such knowing employees have both a professional and personal stake in changes helps managers to understand resistance to change.
Need for change
Human resource experts are of the view that the need for change is constant as organisations evolve and age. According to them, whether change is planned or forced upon an organisation, companies must adapt to remain viable. They however posited that organisations that successfully enlist employees in the change not only profit in the short-term, but in the long-term.
They pointed out that overcoming employee resistance to change is a management ability needed for both everyday operations and for times of crisis Thus, employees’ resistance to organisational change is seen as normal human reaction, with experts harping that good change management can even mitigate much of the resistance.
According to these experts, the fear of moving into an unknown future state creates anxiety and stress, even if the current state is painful.
They argued that it is reasonable for employees to worry about changes that might threaten their jobs, as might be the case with an announcement that a company is moving toward mechanization or technogy-based innovations.
For instance, a human resource expert, Susan Heatfield contends that: “Resistance to change is a natural reaction when employees are asked, well, to change. Change is uncomfortable and requires new ways of thinking and doing. People have trouble developing a vision of what life will look like on the other side of a change. So, they tend to cling to the known rather than embrace the unknown”.
According to her, resistance to change is best viewed as a normal reaction adding that even the most cooperative, supportive employees may experience resistance.
“Change produces anxiety and uncertainty. Employees may lose their sense of security. They may prefer the status quo. The range of reactions, when change is introduced, is immense and unpredictable. No employee is left unaffected in most changes. As a result, resistance to change often occurs when change is introduced,” she said.
Types of Change
Organisational change can affect the strategy of a company, its structure, its process or its ways of handling personnel. Thus, the different types of change include strategic, structural, processâ€Âoriented, and peopleâ€Âcentered changes. These changes occur continuously in dynamic businesses and feature positive potential.
Often, changes in one of these areas impact changes in the other areas. To experts, since strategic change can alter the very mission of a company, it might cut to the heart of organisational culture, as can changes to an organization's structure.
Sophie Johnson, a writer with Demand Media argued that process changes (for instance, adopting a new technology or changing existing work flows), if they are dramatic and cross departmental boundaries, might affect many employees, induce anxiety and cause widespread resistance.
“Changes that take aim at the employees themselves can also cause resistance and likely resentment. Consider a people-focused change in training. Employees with knowledge gaps may welcome the chance to fill them in, the change empowering them,” she stated.
Thus, she maintained that when management implements changes, careful thought must be given to ensure that the new processes are for the longâ€Âterm good of the company.
Preventing resistance to change
Johnson contends that “Companies enacting planned changes have the opportunity to prevent resistance by encouraging a climate of adaptability and mutual trust. To develop trust, employees must feel as if they matter. They must also feel safe to speak plainly. Secure employees are willing to come up with improvements themselves, making them change participants instead of resisters. When an employee's ideas are explored and perhaps even adopted, it breeds trust and a sense of being valuable. Meanwhile, in enacting employee suggestions, the company itself becomes adaptable; the burden of change doesn't rest only with employees. Finally, mutual trust means giving employees advance warning of coming changes”.
Also Heathfiled, in her article on “Minimise Resistance to Change” said managers can prevent a whole lot of resistance to change by planning and implementing the change properly. Stressing the need to involve as many employees as possible and make significant efforts to explain why a change is necessary she said: “The more that you and your employees see the need for the change and are change ready, the more support for the change you are likely to engender”.
“By your thinking and your approach, you can affect the degree to which resistance to change bogs the change down. You can reduce natural resistance to change by the actions you take and how you involve the employees who will be asked to change.
“In a best case scenario, every employee has the opportunity to talk about, provide input to, and impact the change. Rationally, this depends on how big the change is and how many people the change will affect. In a company-wide change effort, for example, the employee input will likely be about how to implement the change at a departmental level, not about whether to make the change in the first place,” she explained.
Managing resistance to change
Leaders, experts say have very important roles to place in managing employees resistance to change. This, they say is because sometimes resistance could flaw change plans and alter organisational goals and objectives.
An article published by Change Management Learning Centre pointed out that “The "right" resistance managers in an organization are the senior leaders, middle managers and front-line supervisors. The change management team is not an effective resistance manager. Project team members, Human Resources or organization development staff are not effective resistance managers either. Ultimately, it takes action by leadership in an organisation to manage resistance”.
It added that: “At a high level, senior leaders can help to mitigate resistance by making a compelling case for the need for change and by demonstrating their commitment to a change. Employees look to and listen to senior leaders when they are deciding if a change is important and they will judge what they hear and what they see from this group. If senior leaders are not committed to a change or waver in their support, employees will judge the change as unimportant and resist the change”.
Managers and supervisors, it noted are the other key group in terms of managing resistance. This, it explained is because “they are the closest to front-line employees who ultimately adopt a change. If they are neutral to or resistant to a change, chances are that their employees will follow suit. However, if they are openly supportive of and advocating a particular change, these behaviors will also show up in how employees react to the change”.
“The change management team or resource can do much of the leg work in understanding and addressing resistance, but the face of resistance management to the organisation is ultimately senior leaders, managers and supervisors. The change management resource can help to enable the "right" resistance managers by providing data about where resistance is coming from, likely root causes of resistance, potential tactics for addressing resistance and tools to identify and manage resistance – but the "right" resistance managers must take action to address objections and move employees forward in the change process”, it stressed.
Similarly, Johnson, in an article on “Overcoming Resistance to Change” described supervisors who directly manage employees as prime change agents. She stated that: “They must be won over, trained to manage the change, with their feedback evaluated as change moves forward. Such communication is important for employees as well, since full disclosure breeds security, a remedy for resistance, adding that leaders should address individual employee's concern on job security, wages and loss of control.
"Eroding resistance means giving employees reasons to lower defenses”, she stated.
Some experts have also argued that much of the resistance faced by supervisors can be avoided if effective change management is applied on the project from the very beginning. While they contended resistance is the normal human reaction in times of change, good change management, they pointed out can mitigate much of this resistance.
They maintained that change management should be viewed as not just a tool for managing resistance when it occurs, adding that it is most effective as a tool for activating and engaging employees in a change. Capturing and leveraging the passion and positive emotion surrounding a change, they say can many times prevent resistance from occurring.