Resistance to Organizational Change: Causes, Attitudes and Mitigations

Resistance to Organizational Change. Causes, Attitudes and Mitigations

Greek Philosopher Heraclitus once said, “The only thing that is constant is change.” Although this statement was made in the mid B.C. years it still rings true today.  Change is constant, but our acceptance and attitude towards change makes all the difference.  Businesses can grow or fail based on their skill at managing change, and their response to the potential resistance to change.  Using peer-reviewed journals and other research, this paper will examine the causes of resistance to change, how the emotional reactions of fear and mistrust impact change efforts, how personal attitudes shape transitions, and how organizations can mitigate potential resistance by employing effective communication and, creating a culture of perceived justice.

Causes of Resistance


Resistance to change is an emotional response brought on by individuals undergoing a potential change.  Often the initial emotion is fear, due to a lack of knowledge, and a concern for the unknown.  In organizations, the first response when employees hear of a looming change brings with it a concern for how the changes will impact them personally.  Job loss, pay reduction, or an overburdened workload are the initial concerns brought about with the thought, “How will this affect me?”  This fear of the unknown can lead to resistance and left untended easily transfers to other employees and even customers.

Fear of the unknown can lead to resistance. #changemanagement #organizationalchange Click To Tweet

As uninformed employees begin to talk through the impending change allowing fear to grow, a mistrust develops.  This mistrust can have a cyclic impact within organizations.  Employees who do not trust, or who fear their leaders, are less productive.  Robert Hurley of the Harvard Business Review (2006) stated, “Although you’ll never see a financial statement with a line item labeled Distrust, the WorldCom fiasco underscores just how expensive broken trust can be” (Hurley, 2006).  Upon surveying executive seminar participants regarding working environments that include low levels of trust, Hurley found respondents frequently used words such as, “stressful,” “threatening,” “divisive,” “unproductive,” and “tense” (Hurley, 2006).  In turn, these feelings lead to reduced productivity and decreased customer satisfaction that eventually have a negative financial impact on the organization, leading to additional change, and then greater resistance.


Resistance to Change. The vicious cycle

Figure 1.  The vicious cycle of resistance to organizational change.


Managing emotions is paramount when dealing with change resistors.  In the Academy of Management Journal, Nguyen, Corley and Kraatz (2014) write about emotional reactions to change and state, “Emotional reactions often generate a change in readiness to act that prepares people to take action.  People determine a potential action response as they evaluate their own abilities to deal with the event.  If they determine they have adequate resources to deal with the event, they are more likely to respond actively.  Otherwise, they may adopt a passive/avoidance approach, which could be interpreted as a form of resistance to change.  As emotional reactions can impact both thinking and behaviour, they could influence subsequent legitimacy judgements and resistance to change.” (p. 1655-1656)


How Personal Attitudes Shape Transitions


Personal attitudes also hamper the progress of change and impact the transition process.  As individuals vary in their predispositions towards change, their behaviour and acceptance of change will differ.  In discussing individual resistance to organizational change, Dr. Chuang, professor of International Business at Chein Hsin University in Taiwan stated, “It is often assumed that everyone in an organization shares the same objective and homogenous reality, but not all participants facing a change initiative encounter the same conditions.  Differences in participant responses to change usually reflect either misunderstandings about the change or individual characteristics and attributes.” (Chuang, 2012)

Personal attitudes hamper the progress of change and impact the transition process. #changemanagement Click To Tweet

Individuals navigate organizational changes with a varying set of emotions that change management specialists relate directly to the Five Stages of Grief, as outlined by noted psychiatrist and hospice pioneer, Elizabeth Kubler Ross (“Elisabeth Kubler Ross Foundation”, n.d.).  Stages of Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance experienced during a tragic loss are similar to the emotions of employees undergoing organizational change.  Though I would argue, the grief in managing organizational change is not as intense, and emotions can fluctuate from one stage to another in an unpredictable pattern based on how and when information is disseminated.  Additionally, these 5 stages do not consider the emotions of fear and hope, which can cause or alleviate resistance respectively.

When emotions flare, progress is inhibited.  Our attitudes toward change, failure, and short-comings impact our resiliency, and maladaptation to change can have a detrimental effect on profits.  In the Journal for Quality and Participation, Rick Maurer (2011) wrote, “In average organizations the ratio of engaged to actively disengaged employees is 1.5:1.  In world-class organizations, the ratio of engaged to actively engaged employees is near 8:1.  Actively disengaged employees erode an organization’s bottom line while breaking the spirits of colleagues in the process.” (p. 18)

The paper goes on to inform, that within the U.S. the estimated cost of lost productivity due to disengagement is more than $300 billion (Maurer, 2011).


Mitigating Potential Resistance

There’s more to this paper.  Click to read or download the full paper with references.  Absolutely free.


3 Reasons Why Analytics Isn’t Working

3 Reasons Why Analytics isn't Working by TheRiseApproach

Now that many organizations have jumped on the analytics band wagon, the ability to assess the effectiveness of analytics in relation to business success has presented itself.  The problem is, although there are many reasons for using analytics to understand and drive business growth, businesses feel that analytics isn’t working for them, and here’s why

1.  Lack of Trust

When it comes to making business decisions many CEO’s rely on their gut instincts.  With a deep knowledge of their business and industry this sometimes works, but isn’t optimal in large organizations.  Combining instinct with analytical insights derived from data, moves the needle towards better knowledge-based decision making.  However, a mistrust of analytics is widening the gap between analytics and business decision making.

A July 2016 study by KPMG showed that only 38% of survey respondents were very confident in the insights gained from Data and Analytics for customer insights.  And only 34% reported being very confident in the insights gained from D&A for business operations.  This means that over 60% of organizations surveyed are not very confident in the insights derived from analytics.

Over 60% of organizations surveyed are not very confident in the insights derived from #analytics Click To Tweet

This lack of trust in analytics insights devalues the benefits of decision making based on analytics, and might have businesses turning once again to historical insights based on financial statements and on gut instinct.

2.   Lack of Understanding

Although many large businesses are well into the cycle of using analytics for better decision making, smaller businesses have been left behind, mainly because they lack in-depth understanding of what analytics can do for their business and how to use the information.  They are also overwhelmed with the choice of platforms and lack the funds to hire data scientists and specialists.

The majority of small businesses know they need to use analytics in order to augment decision making, but aren’t sure what to do with the results, thus relying solely on historical financial analysis to make decisions about the future.

When we taught a client how to manage their ecommerce pricing decisions using simple mathematical and predictive analytics modelling in a spreadsheet program they were already familiar with, they were blown away.  The model allowed them to determine the best pricing for each product to maximize revenue.  It provided a simple alternative and showed that predictive decision making need not involve complex processes, and systems.  Using advanced spreadsheet techniques with statistical modelling can lead to deeper insights without an excessive investment of time or money, and these techniques are easily learned.

3.  Lack of Execution

Business decision makers drool over beautiful visualizations and effective models that provide deep insights, yet they fail to execute on the insights.  Proving to a decision maker that production of a particular widget is affecting their P&L negatively is one thing, having the decision makers take the steps to change systems, increase efficiencies, or eliminate production of the widget, is another.

A critical step in using #analytics is to implement the strategy developed through insights. Click To Tweet

One of the critical steps in using analytics to its best advantage is to implement the strategy developed through analytics insights.  The analytics alone will not get you to business success, developing strategy based on the insights and executing the strategy using an implementation roadmap will.

There is no doubt that using the RISE approach is a launch pad to business success, and requires strategic execution of all four components.

The RISE Approach

Lack of,  trust, understanding, and execution are the 3 foundational reasons why decision makers feel analytics isn’t working for their businesses.  What do you think?  Is analytics working in your business?  Why or why not?

RISE Above

RISE is here to help you elevate your business.  This is the space where you’ll find us sharing knowledge and information on business analytics, strategic planning, and some of our research cases.

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