For close to four decades, organisation management scholars have been taking an in-depth look at organisational change. Besides, there are also scholars from dissimilar disciplines who have approached this concept to understand the process of change and its resistance in an organisation. Of all these different intentions, most studies view such change as a transformation or a shift of either the components of an organisation or all departments. Such a change is essential in the current business environment due to the ever-increasing competition and complexity. Considering the varying prominence of change and the implications of its resistance, this paper intends to take a more in-depth exploration of this concept through a critical analysis of the practical, ethical, and theoretical literature on it.
Perspectives on organisational change
The ever-changing organisational environment comes with increased competition and complexity which causes to the organisation a necessity to evolve and remain competitive, profitable, and relevant. On the other hand, these organisational changes create additional results which, at times, demand dismissals, demotions or cancellations of some financial incentives. From this perspective, different scholars have come up to provide an understanding of change in the organisation management literature (Ford et al. 2008; Fiedler 2010; Janicijevic 2012;Hornstein 2015). According to Janicijevic(2012), changes affect the organisational culture, superiors, work colleagues, and different situations that cause much discomfort to the employees if not managed well.
While taking a neutral view, Ford et al. (2008), advice that those who are not comfortable in accepting change should be considered positively (p.89). In Fiedler (2010), the author emphasizes relevant environments that promote change. Also, the work views resistance to change as an organisational aspect which can have either positive or negative impacts on change. The author concludes by emphasizing on the importance of the organisational leadership in identifying and evaluating the approaches to resistance and their resolutions. In Hornstein (2015), the author focuses on the project as a necessity for change. While taking this approach, he states that the training and project management approaches must take into consideration the impacts they can have on the overall organisational change. The work encourages project managers to include education on such a change in their training for the efficacy of a variety of associated projects.
For an efficient implementation of change, organisations should cease to think of it as an episodic move, but rather understand it as a constant, uncertain stage that takes its right shape from the employee’s and management’s day-to-day interactions (Hornstein 2015). By taking this perspective, the organisational leadership is able to understand that change is inevitable, and every person in the organisation becomes an agent since many decisions within a firm are made and effected at the lowest level. Delving on the literature on change, there appears two main methods that can be applied to organisational change that this paper seeks to cover. These are the planned and processual change.
The approach of planned change in organisations has been dominant in both theory and practice for decades since its conception by Kurt Lewin. The basic notion in this approach is an understanding of change in an organisation as a process where the company practices are moved from the “fixed state” and adopt another condition by following pre-planned procedures and steps (Lewin 1951). From this idea,Lewin (1958) further summarised this theory by stating that organisational change features a “three-step model”. The three phasesreinforce three phases of organisation change. The first stage has been explained in the work ofOreg (2018) that a state where employees prefer staying in the comfort of the routine which they have adapted to, thus, experiencing difficulties in accepting the change itself.
The second phase is the exploration of the ideas and work approaches that are introduced by change (Zhang et al., 2016). During this phase, the changes are incorporated within the organisation as well as the employees’ uncertainty eases. This phase also involves training to help the workers adapt to their new environment. The third phase involves the identification, utilisation, and the integration of employees’ attitude, values, and skills that were held before the change into the modifications. In this phase, the employees go back to their initial status where they create routines and adapt to their work.
Since the inception of the planned change approach, development from this theory has been noted with each trying to add to the gaps while staying within the three primary components. For example,Maimone and Sinclair (2014) took planned change but differentiated each phase of transition as a category. Also, the stages in the expected change were identified as steps in a continuous process. Another approach was taken by Chia (2014) which is similar to that ofMaimore and Sinclair (2014). The author perceived change in an impetus context. Further,Graetz and Smith (2010) viewed change by looking at where it stemmed from within the organisation. Where a change originated from top, the steps are applied from the top-bottom angle of the management and vice-versa where the change requirement originated from the micro level components.
Unlike the planned change, the processualone understands transformation as a process that takes time and cannot be summarised into steps. According to Dawson (2013), organisations should understand the change in a broader context which needs to blend the past, the future, and the current processes. The processual method emphasizes the significance of the temporal dynamics and the background around the organisation in question. The retrospective and historical analysis of the company covers the past, which should not abruptly fade in respect to the future. Similarly, the future expectations which are contained in the change should blend with the past, and the current approaches should consider both the past and the future. This is because the bits of the past practices are replaced with new ones as time goes. Dawson and Adriopoulos (2014) explained this point by stating that processual perspectives of change involve joint shaping and interaction of the “social” and “technical” aspects of anorganisation. Thus, change requires human political actions to redefine and reinforce some structural features concerning the preferred design.
According to Dawson and Adriopoulos (2014), processual approach recognises that as change occurs, misinterpretation of the temporal dynamics, the transition between the past, current and future contexts, power plays, political processes, and aspects of decision-making may frequently transpire. As these misinterpretations take shape, the same will lead to uncertainties which cannot be resolved by a list of steps as in the planned changes. While supporting the processual approach, Langley and Tsoukoas (2010) stated that an organisation causes equivocality due to varying interpretations, and processual approach allows a chance to resolve the ambiguity through shared sense making procedures progressively.
In summary, the processual approach introduces change processes and examines them as the main points of progress. As the new activities interweave with the old ones over time, the organisation is able to monitor and identify any interlocking issues within the activities and improve the temporal understanding. In this approach, the company in question can understand and respond effectively to the employees’ responses as they interact with their new environment brought by the temporal changes.
Resistance to Change
The past literature on resistance to change focuses on the significance of change agents. However, some of the research has emphasized on the top leaders and the management as the solution to the resistance. For instance, Fielder (2010) proposed a model where program and project managers are viewed as the principal agents in managing resistance. Similarly, in Lines et al. (2015), the authors suggested a model for minimising resistance which included six management aspects and formation of change agent team which oversees the change process (p.90). Whereas this view has been seen as practical, the standpoint has been criticised by some of the management scholars such as Ford et al. (2008).
According to Ford et al. (2008), the middle manager should be the most active change agents. This view has also been supported by other scholars such as Thomas et al. (2011) who stated that rather than being efficient change sponsors and agents, middle managers are also uncertain about change itself. Unlike the lowest-level employees, the resistance of middle-managers can be overcome easily since most of them are afraid of losing their status as opposed to beingdistressed. This action is not solely a resistance, but it can be termed as anopponent since it counters the actual change. While dealing with change, the two dominant methods in resolving resistance that would be looked into are demonizing and celebrating approaches.
The approach to the demonising resistance places the identities of the people who have been chosen as change recipients and sponsors in a predetermined and fixed state. The change sponsors assume the responsibilities for the identification of the areas that require a change, creating visions for the change, specifying outcomes, and effecting the actual change. According to Ford et al. (2008), change sponsors are more of the strategists. While explaining resistance, Van Dam et al. (2008) state that it is an action triggered by human beings. In this context, it is an activated response from the change recipients who should have been the sponsors were they involved in the determination of the actual change requirements. These individuals stick to the fears and conservativismof losing their personalities. Therefore, change sponsors, and their counterpart recipients remain as change supporters and opposers.
Diminishing resistance involves the invocation of various binary oppositions. The approach teaches recipients to pursue rational choices instead of feeling insecure and tensed up. Most importantly, the change agents encourage the recipient to seek the offensive and forward-looking policies instead of being defensive and holding back to the backward-looking rules. Additionally, the work ofOreg and Sverdlik (2011) states that change agents can take the responsibility of diminishing resistance by motivating the recipients who show reluctance, thus, improving their receptiveness to the pursued change.
The celebrating approach focuses on taking a different view of change. Instead of perceiving it as something that the recipients need to avoid or eliminate, the plan encourages them to view it as an aspect that they should own and take as part of success. According toFurst and Cable (2008), celebrating resistance works better than demonising it since it is sustainable and focuses on changing the mind-set that interferes with transformation. To support this, Wooldridge et al. (2008) argue that celebrating approaches minimises negative reactions as positive intention can overcome the negative plans. The work of Ford et al. (2009) further states that even though resistance to change can be a challenge to the sponsors, it can as well yield better results since even though the subordinates are resisting, they will also seek to be accommodated during the celebration. Again, Ford et al. (2008) state that change sponsors would have a role of tolerating the opposers who would want to be part of the rejoicing group.
According to Thomas et al. (2011), the end of the resistance would depend on the willingness of the change sponsors to accept those who are impervious. Through the exchange of counter-offers from the subordinate and the willingness of the change agent in accommodating them, Ford et al. (2018) state that the change agent would be able to create a negotiation environment, and this would clear the uncertainties held by the opposers.
Practical, ethical, theoretical problems
Despite being the dominant methods of dealing with resistance to change, both of them have some related limitations. For instance, despite the utilisation of demonising resistance, the work of Thomas and Hardy (2011) informed that there are notable changes that have failed which often arise from employee resistance. Secondly, the work of Ford et al. (2018)states that demonising resistance does not provide chances of enhancing change initiatives. On the other hand, the motive behind celebrating resistance is to provide a solution to the failures of thisapproach. The duo has further shown that like demonizing approach, this method also suffers some practical implications. Firstly, it positions the transformation agent on the receiving end of counter-offers and cautions them on quickly dismissing such offers as resistance. Therefore, the change sponsors must have the time to evaluate each counter-offer and its impacts and later accommodate them appropriately. The work of Thomas and Hardy (2011) states that problems usually arise during their evaluation relating to practical and ethical implications.
Apart from the mentioned problems with the two dominant approaches, organisations must also consider the issue of power resistance. The power of the individuals within the company can also play a significant part in opposition. Power is one of the theoretical concepts related to resistance which also may affect the privileges granted to the change agents. The work argues that since power circulates through the complex network of the different actors within the organisation, it may cause the development of new meanings, the emergence of objects, and bodies that reframe resistance (Maguire and Hardy, 2009). However, Thomas and Hardy (2011) argue that such effects are power dependent and unspecified since the same actors may try to influence the various aspects of control.
In a nutshell, resistance to change is an essential aspect of every organisation. Many researchers have done a variety of publications to demystify this topic, and their approaches have had various implications on the practical, ethical and theoretical comprehension of the same. This paper has focused on the analysis of resistance to change to pave the way to a better understanding of how such rich literature has the implications mentioned above. Through the two leadingmethods of bringing about change and these are processual and planned change, it is clear that organisations can apply either of them to safeguard itself from the possible opposition from the employees and sections of management.
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