In order to survive, organizations must adapt to fit their changing circumstances. Organizational change may be necessary to maintain a competitive edge or adapt to changing economic factors. Unfortunately, change within an organization is not always a smooth process. Impediments to change exist at all levels, from the individual all the way up to the organization as a whole. It is the responsibility of top managers to recognize the source of this resistance and work to remedy it before it hampers the growth of the organization (George & Jones, 2008).
Individual resistance to change is the easiest for managers to identify. Individuals often feel threatened by organizational change because the fear the change will negatively impact them. Individuals are naturally more concerned with their current circumstances than that of the organization. They often fail to recognize the positive impact that change will have on the organization. Finally, individuals tend to develop work habits that may be impacted by the proposed organizational change. Bad habits are hard to break, but they must be in order for the organization to advance. The insecurity that individuals feel regarding organizational change can manifest itself in increased absenteeism and employee churn. In extreme cases, individuals may take steps to prevent the change from occurring (George & Jones, 2008).
Groups within an organization tend to develop shared behaviors that may be resistant to change. Organizational change may alter the dynamics of the group culture and disrupt its normal operation. A tightly knit group may have an overdeveloped sense of cohesiveness that encourages organizational inertia. This cohesiveness may result in individuals actively manipulating information in order to promote an anti-change mentality within the group. Individual members of a group may begin to realize the inaccuracy of their opinions, but the group cohesion will prevent them from acting on these realizations (George & Jones, 2008).
Finally, the organization as a whole may resist change. Organizational change may lead to a change in the organization’s power structure. The resulting power struggle between those losing power and those gaining it will result in organizational stagnation. Similarly, the proposed change may assist one group in achieving their goals while resulting in another group’s goals becoming more difficult. Large organizations with a divisional structure may falter as divisions fail to recognize the benefit of change to the entire organization. Organizations with strict organizational reporting or tall hierarchies tend to resist change as individuals within the organization are not encouraged to find their own solutions. Finally, change that cuts against the grain of the organization’s existing culture or values will find little acceptance from those entrenched in it (George & Jones, 2008).
In order to effect change, the top managers of an organization must ensure that the forces for change overcome the resistance to change. Managers may choose to encourage evolutionary change that develops slowly over time. Evolutionary change seeks to make minute alterations to the status quo in order to alter the organization without resistance. Over time, the organization reaches the desired end state in what appears to be a natural development. This in contrast to revolutionary change which seeks to immediately move to the end state without regard for slow development. This method of change is often in response to what is perceived as an extreme problem within an organization. Naturally, revolutionary change is disruptive and more likely to result in resistance (George & Jones, 2008).
George, J. M., & Jones G. R. (2008). Understanding and managing organizational behavior (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.