Change can be viewed as a process of growth and, in straight-forward language, resistance to change most likely represents growing pains. Change, for the purpose of this blog, refers to planned organisational change; ‘an intentional attempt to improve…the operational effectiveness of the organisation.’ (Mullins 2010: 753). Utilising Kotter’s (2007) steps to effectively manage change, the arguments for and against the statement, ‘It is all down to the personality of the individual and there is little management can do about resistance to change’ (Mullins 2010: 753) will be debated. As implementing change causes individuals to react in different ways, and often resistance will be met, managers must be able to respond to resistance in a positive and productive way to avoid failure.
It can be argued that ‘there is little managers can do about resistance to change’ (Mullins 2010: 753) as individuals react in different ways to change and it is ultimately a choice the individual makes to adapt or resist. Kotter’s model (2007) details 8 steps to effectively manage change, aiding managers initiate the change process, however, the performance of, and response to change is largely conducted and experienced by individual front-line employees. The model describes managerial motivation, communication and planning functions, but can be argued to cede much control to employees’ individual preference regarding their reaction to change.
For example, Myron Ullman III (“Ullman”), CEO of JC Penney (2004-2012) (Businessweek.com 2013), implemented culture change in several ‘quick hits’, such as the ‘Just call me Mike’ poster campaign, emphasising first names on name tags and relaxing the dress code, all of which only became embedded in the culture after two years, when individual employees began to feel engaged, showing that resistance can make the change process slow (ICMR 2007).
The argument against Mullins’ (2010: 753) statement posits that managers can prevent or reduce resistance to change. Kotter’s (2007) steps to effectively manage change, followed in the correct order and without making irreconcilable mistakes, may achieve successful change (Kotter 2007: 97), with resistance moderated, especially in the empowerment stage. Often employees may require individual attention to remove mental obstacles to change (Kotter 2007: 101), however overcoming resistance is possible.
In JC Penney’s case, the success of the culture change may be seen as an example of how management may implement change effectively, however, resistance still occurred where employees were sceptical or disapproving of the degree of informality implemented. The situation was rectified with time and the addition of the training programmes to develop employees. The training programme aided in increasing employee involvement, reduced turnover and attracted new recruits to JC Penney, thus diluting the overall resistance to change and allowing the slower culture change to take place (ICMR 2007).
Resistance to change
Lewin’s (1951) force field analysis model describes restraining forces that prevent change from occurring, and such resistance to change may occur at an organisational level or at an individual level. Resistance to change at an organisational level refers to the embedded systems within an organisation that prevent change from occurring, such as JC Penney’s office policing system which inhibited employee individuality and innovation (ICMR 2007; McShane and Travaglione 2007). At an individual level, resistance to change occurs due to employees’ ‘fear of the unknown’ and reluctance in ‘breaking routines’ (McShane and Travaglione 2007). This resistance is more pervasive and more difficult for managers to overcome as it requires the willingness and ability of individual employees to accept change.
Therefore, managers may mitigate resistance to change by supporting employees and providing a vision and plan to guide the organisation, but ultimately, the individual employee must either accept change or face being left behind in an increasingly change-oriented environment. As the HR consulting industry leader Lynda Gratton said, ‘What is inevitable is that…work will change dramatically – and those of us already in the workforce will be employed in ways we can hardly imagine.’ (Gratton 2010: 18).
Businessweek.com (2013) Myron Ullman: Executive Profile and Biography [online] available from <http://investing.businessweek.com/research/stocks/people/person.asp?personId=195532&ticker=JCP> [13 March 2013]
Gratton, L. (2010), ‘Lynda Gratton Investigates: The Future of Work’, Business Strategy Review, 21(3), 16-23, Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 11 March 2013.
ICMR (2007) ‘Remaking JC Penney’s Organizational Culture’ Center for Management Research, 1-20
Kotter, J.P. (2007), ‘Leading Change’, Harvard Business Review, 85(1), 96-103, Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 11 March 2013.
Lewin, K. (1951), Field Theory In Social Science: Selected Theoretical Papers (Edited By Dorwin Cartwright.), Oxford England: Harpers
McShane, S. and Travaglione, T. (2007) Organisational Business: On the Pacific Rim. 2nd edn. New South Wales: McGraw-Hill
Mullins, L. J. (2010) Management & Organisational Behaviour. 9th edn. Harlow, Essex: Pearson Education Limited
Neal, A. (2008), ‘Preparing the organization for change’, Strategic HR Review, 7(6), 30-35, Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 11 March 2013.