We have demonstrated, both in our own articles and our reviews of some of the works of major commentators on the subject, that for cultural change to be successfully effected requires the acquiescence, involvement and support of the workforce. However, it is rarely the case that the entire staff team will readily embrace the organisational, operational and philosophical changes that accompany a major overhaul of the culture of the business.
In this article we examine some of the reasons that are likely to underlie such a resistance to change and discuss how this resistance might be most effectively addressed, reiterating the importance of confronting the issue from the earliest possible stage of the process and throughout.
The Causes of Resistance to Change
There are several possible reasons behind one or more of the employees of a business being resistant to change. Below we set out those that we consider to be the most prevalent.
- Fear of the Unknown
Not just in the workplace but in society in general, there is an understandable fear of any change where the consequences of that change are unknown or unclear. In the context of a change of culture, lack of clarity as to what it will entail for the employees in practice is likely to engender an entirely rational resistance.
- Inability to Perceive any Benefits from Change
Over the course of many years, the employees of a business are likely to become set in the practices, routines, systems, attitudes and ideologies that are now the subject of a major reconstruction. Unless they are convinced that moving forward (with all the upheaval that it will entail) is likely to bring about an improvement in their personal situation, resistance will be likely, if not inevitable.
- Attachment to the “Old Way”
Distinct from the inability to see the benefits of change is the almost unshakable attachment that some employees will have formed with the old practices. This is especially the case with longer-standing members of staff who have an emotional connection to how things have always been, which they may actually have been encouraged to cultivate throughout a lengthy period of service.
- Lack of Self-Confidence
A change of culture inevitably involves a change in the required practices of the staff team. Some of the workforce may have a genuine fear that the changes will reveal a lack of competency to take on these new practices, which might ultimately jeopardise their position within the organisation.
- Lack of Confidence in the Management
If the employees sense that the management team does not have the ability to carry the organisation through the process of change, which is particularly likely to be the case where a proposed change has been previously mishandled, they are unlikely to be readily carried along.
Sadly, some organisations will have one or more members of staff who will refuse to embrace any major change that involves relinquishing their personal comfort zone. Their opposition to change is likely to be steadfast, irrational and unshakeable.
Diffusing/De-Fusing the Resistance
The key to overcoming resistance to change is to communicate the rationale behind the proposed change at the earliest possible stage and a frank, forthright interaction with the workforce is vital to the success or otherwise of the process. From the very outset, a clear demonstration as to why there is a need for change should be provided, the benefits to the organisation and the workforce that are associated with the change should be elucidated and a training programme should be devised to reduce any fears about a lack of competency to take on altered roles. Any concerns regarding the ability of the managers to accomplish the change should be addressed squarely and consistently, including, if necessary, the provision of a clear explanation as to why previous proposed changes may have been abandoned or proved unsuccessful. These issues should be revisited and reinforced throughout the implementation of the required changes.
It is almost certain that there will be one or more “blind opponents” to change in any large organisation. Whilst the adoption of the processes described above is likely to address most of the fears that engender a resistance to change in the majority of the employees, the “blind opponents” are likely to remain unmoved. The engagement of the workforce in the process of change is so critical that the only way forward, in those circumstances, may well be to dispense with their services as soon as their dogmatic resistance becomes apparent.
Article written by Mark Edwards
Marketing Director, Adcurata Limited