Organization Change – Practitioner

Stop Blaming Resistance to Change and Start Using It (pdf)

Published in Organizational Dynamics, 2010

It’s true that resistance can be irrational and self-serving. Still, it is an important form of feedback: resistance can be a valuable resource in the accomplishment of change. Accessing its benefits, however, requires a shift in managers’ tendency to blame resistance for the failure of change. This may be difficult – blaming resistance for failures in change is easy to do – but there are three reasons to start using that resistance:

  1. Blaming resistance can be dysfunctional for managers who perceive resistance as threatening. Becoming competitive, defensive, or uncommunicative may alienate potential partners in accomplishing the desired change.
  2. Blaming other people for their apparent resistance behaviors presumes that resistance is a unilateral phenomenon. It’s not: it is inaccurate and simplistic to view resistance as coming only from ‘‘over there, in them,’’ gives only one side of what must be a two sided story.
  3. Blaming resistance ignores the functional value of resistance. Such a purely negative view of resistance is not found in other fields of study, e.g., mechanics, biology, and electronics, where resistance is an operational factor. In those fields, resistance is inherently neutral and only takes on a value of ‘‘functional’’ (e.g., in space heaters) or ‘‘dysfunctional’’ (e.g., excessive air drag) depending on what one is trying to accomplish.

A more complete and balanced view of resistance can provide more flexibility in the field of managing change.

Decoding Resistance to Change (pdf)

Published in Harvard Business Review, April 2009

You announce a change initiative. Some employees are silent; others complain. You bristle at this “threat” and determine to squelch the resistance.

But wait: Resistance is a form of feedback from people with deep knowledge about your company’s daily operations. Treat their concerns as valuable information, and you gain important ideas for communicating and executing the change initiative. And you win buy-in essential for success.

Consider: A manager proposed merging the billing group with her call center to create a large customer-service function. Because this required cross-training in both tasks, everyone balked at the extra work. But when she asked them for suggestions for implementing the change, they perked up. One idea—billers and callers training each other—struck gold, and fostered collaboration post-merger.

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