Resistance, also known as opposition to change, shows up in predictable covert and overt behaviors. Although we primarily view resistance as negative, it can ultimately provide us with the essential data for optimal structuring and strengthening of organizational change interventions. Organizations are most resistant to change when employees: are unable to envision the impact of change in their personal and/or professional lives; assess change as being incompatible with their needs, desires and aspirations; and, feel powerless to impact the change. Additional sources of resistance to organizational change include:
· Limited organizational focus for change initiative
· Mutually interdependent sub-systems impacted by change in one sub-system
· Individual tolerance levels for coping with anxiety and ambiguity
· Group/sub-system inertia
· Incongruent group and cultural norms with change demands
· Threat to established expertise and value
· Perceived and/or real threats to power hierarchies, resource allocation, financial viability and staffing dynamics.
Embracing and working with resistance to change requires stepping back and viewing resistance from a non-negative and more positive perspective. Essentially, when we are able to step into the possibility of the positive side of resistance, we can utilize this information to address underlying causality, rather than focusing precious organizational resources on ignoring and/or fighting the resistance. Unless the underlying factors that cause and support resistance are honored and adequately addressed, resistance will expand and undermine change efforts and desired results.
As professionals and humans, when we recognize and embrace the information inherent in resistance, we empower ourselves and our organizations to work with resistance, rather than against it. We recognize that individuals are motivated to accept and even embrace change when they feel that the change is ultimately in service of their best interests and that they have the ability to impact how they respond to the change. In organizations, the key to understanding and utilizing the information provided by resistance is to strategically plan for it via engaging others in structuring critical aspects of the change initiative. Essential elements of optimal change strategies that serve to lessen many forms of resistance include:
· Communication: open, accurate and timely communication regarding change initiative rationale, timing, expectations and positive personal impact. Communication includes active listening and the creation of a safe space for strategic and facilitative employee venting.
· Participation: via engaging and involving employees in the “how” of structuring aspects of change initiatives. This approach serves to decrease resistance, apathy, ambiguity, anxiety and potential sabotage, while simultaneously increasing commitment and accountability.
You can fight or embrace and work with and through resistance to change. The choice is ultimately up to you. Which approach will you choose?