"Change implementation within an organization can…be conceptualized as an exercise in social influence, defined as the alteration or an attitude or behavior by one actor in response to another actor's actions… [and] one important dimension along which they vary is the extent to which they break with existing institutions in a field of activity…" (Battilana, et al., 2012).
When companies need to make major changes -- do to the emerging trends in the marketplace, new products being produced, or simply because the old ways are not profitable anymore -- how do they go about it and how do they deal with employees' resistance to change? This is one of the most common problems that organizations face, and there are reasonable answers as to why they face those problems. This paper points out the need for change and the resistance to change. There are also solutions to resistance to change and this paper points to those solutions as well.
How do you change an organizational culture?
Columnist Steve Denning writes in Forbes that changing the culture of an organization is "…one of the most difficult leadership challenges" because within a corporate culture there are dynamics that are "interlocking" and seemingly intractable (Denning, 2011). Those dynamics include "…goals, roles, processes, values, communications practices, attitudes and assumptions"; in other words, Denning is saying that old habits are hard to change. The dynamics he mentions act as a "mutually reinforcing system" and so trying to bring in a specialist or consultant may seem to be effective -- there may be progress for a short time -- but in time that mutually reinforcing system will rear its head again and the company will go back to its old ways.
If that is true, then what is the answer in terms of making a change that is needed in any given company? Denning explains that a company should begin with "leadership tools" which include a well-thought-out vision or story of how the future will look after the change (p. 1). Beyond a vision and a story Denning asserts that the company needs to put "management tools" in place; those tools include "role definitions, measurement and control systems," and in addition the use of "pure power tools of coercion and punishments" for those that fail to cooperate with the tools and the process (p. 1). The author notes that coercion and punishment should be when all else fails.
In fact management can over extend the use of the power tools, and that is a mistake many companies make, Denning continues (p. 2). Also, it is not difficult for leadership to have a story or a vision for what the future will look like after change has been instituted, but a vision / story without also putting in place the management tools mentioned will lead to failure. Also, Denning insists that a company should not put its power tools into place before the story / vision is clearly explained to the company.
Sangeeth Varghese also writes for Forbes and in his review of the book by Chip Heath (Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard) Varghese explains that a good way to begin planning for change in an organization is to examine how the human mind functions. If managers that are initiating change (or planning a change) could learn more about the "fundamentals of how our minds function," the problem of overcoming resistance to change could be approached more successfully (Varghese, 2010, p. 1).
Being able to figure out how to stay focused on the need and desire for change is key; staying locked in on the goal can go a long way to prevent what often happens in these situations, and that is, people in leadership positions (and their followers) tend to become "overwhelmed by skepticism, caution and fear" (Varghese, p. 1). Each change in any context begins with "…one individual deciding to act differently," Varghese asserts; and when that one person (it would likely be an executive or a board member) decides to take the lead, others will follow if the vision and the desire are there.
To lead the charge for change that one individual must zero in on "three big things at once," Varghese continues, using Heath's ideas to motivate readers. Those three things include: a) "motivate the elephant" (human emotions and human instincts tend to be "lazy and skittish" and will take "any quick payoff over a long-term reward"; hence the emotional side of the human brain must be manipulated, motivated); b) "direct the rider" (the rational side of the human psyche is believed to be riding the elephant; people driving change must believe they have the "reins" in hand and can determine which way to guide the elephant); and c) "shape the path" (why do attempts to change often fail? Because the rider doesn't stay on the elephant long enough to reach the desired destination; the elephant is hungry for instant gratification and he "pulls against the rider's strength") (Varghese, p. 2).
Using action and reflection as strategies to respond to resistance
Meanwhile, a peer-reviewed article in the Academy of Management Perspectives explains that breakdowns in the change model that a company has devised happen when "…organizations do not change in a manner that is consistent with [the] conceptual model" (Van de Ven, et al., 2011, 58). What Denning called "vision" and "story" that need to be put forward for change, Van de Ven calls a "conceptual model," primarily the same concept. Van de Ven goes on to explain that the breakdowns are actually "…discrepancies or gaps" that occur between the very process of change that "we observe in an organization and our mental model of how the change process should unfold" (58).
Simply put, Van de Ven's understanding of the problem is that a leader with a model for change will witness a breakdown when employees ("participants") "…resist or do not follow the change plans" (58). But, Van de Ven goes on, just because employees resist does not mean all is lost and the conceptual model is to be discarded. Quite the contrary. Resistance brings about the ideal spot for two strategies -- "action and reflection" (58). It is as though management should be expecting resistance, which of course bright, alert managers do indeed expect to encounter resistance. The action response zeros in on "correcting the people or processes…that prevent the change model from unfolding as expected" (Van de Ven, 58).
The agent for change (the executive or manager leading the charge for change) must also be a problem solver, Van de Ven explains; he or she must intervene and be able to competently diagnose what difficulties are being encountered that prevent the smooth transition. Moreover, he or she must be very certain that the "mental model is correct" in the first place before dealing with those in the organization who are stubbornly refusing to accept the model.
Secondly, the "reflection" part of Van de Ven's discussion of overcoming resistance involves the revision of the leader's model. The author is not suggesting that the leader will abandon the original model for change, but rather, the change agent could "…adopt a dialectical model of change that promotes constructive conflict and debate" among the employees who are in opposition or have opposing models to share in place of the original model (Van de Ven, 59). In other words, the reflection response to resistance emphasizes how the change agent can try to make sense of and "…socially construct understandings of the 'buzzing, blooming, and confusing'" from resisting participants (Van de Ven, 59).
Developing better change leaders
Of course any successful change in an organization requires strong, believable leadership, and an article in the peer-reviewed journal McKinsey Quarterly points to the need to develop the leadership that can bring the change…