Countering Resistance to Cultural Change

Change is resisted in any organization. Resistance to change is normal organizational behavior. In this regard, an orga­nization is similar to a biological organism. From the per­spective of organizational culture, the alien is change, and the organism is the organization to be changed. Continual improvement means continual change. To ensure contin­ual improvement, one must be able to facilitate continual change.

1. Why Change Is Difficult

Most people understand and accept that organizational change will be resisted. However, to be an effective agent of change, one must understand why it is resisted. Joseph Juran describes organizational change as a “clash between cultures.”3 As Figure 6.2 shows, any organization has two separate cul­tures relating to change: the advocates and the resisters.

Advocates focus on the anticipated benefits of the change. Resisters, on the other hand, focus on perceived threats to their status, beliefs, habits, and security. Often both advocates and resisters are wrong in how they initially approach change. Advocates are often guilty of focusing so intently on benefits that they fail to take into account the perceptions of employees who may feel threatened by the change. Resisters are often guilty of focusing so intently on threats to the status quo that they refuse to acknowledge the benefits. These approaches typically divide an organization into warring camps that waste energy and time instead of focusing resources on the facilitation of change. Table 6.1 shows how advocates and resisters can have different percep­tions of the same proposed change.

2. How to Facilitate Change

The responsibility for facilitating change necessarily falls to its advocates. Figure 6.3 illustrates the broad steps in facili­tating change.

Begin with a New Advocacy Paradigm The first step in facilitating change is to adopt a facilitating paradigm. Juran summarizes the traditional paradigm of change advo­cates as follows:4

  • Advocates of change tend to focus solely on expected re­sults and benefits.
  • Advocates are often unaware of how a proposed change will be perceived by potential resisters.
  • Advocates are often impatient with the concerns of resisters.

If change is to happen, advocates must begin with a different paradigm. When a change is advocated, ask such questions as the following:

  • Who will be affected by this change and how?
  • How will the change be perceived by those it affects?
  • How can the concerns of those affected be alleviated?

Understand the Concerns of Potential Resisters The second step in facilitating change is to understand the con­cerns of potential resisters—to put yourself in their place.5

  • Fear. Change brings with it the unwanted specter of the unknown, and people fear the unknown. Worst-case sce­narios are assumed and compounded by rumors. In this way, fear tends to feed on itself, growing with time.
  • Loss of control. People value having a sense of control over their lives. There is security in control. Change can threaten this sense of security and cause people to feel as if they are losing control of their lives, jobs, areas of re­sponsibility, and so on.
  • It is difficult to deal with uncertainty. For better or worse, people like to know where they stand. Will I be able to handle this? What will happen to me if I can’t? These are the types of questions people have when confronted with change.
  • More work. Change sometimes means more work, at least at first. This concern includes work in the form of learning. To make the change, people may have to learn more information or develop new skills. For an unde­fined period, they may have to work longer hours.

Implement Change-Promoting Strategies The third step in facilitating change is implementing change-promoting strategies. These are strategies that require an advocacy para­digm and take into account the concerns people typically have when confronted with change. Juran recommends the following strategies for handling and overcoming resistance to change:6

Involve Potential Resisters At some point in the pro­cess, those affected by change (potential resisters) will have to take ownership of the change, or it will fail. By involving
them from the outset in planning for the change, organiza­tions can ensure that potential resisters understand it and have adequate opportunities to express their views and con­cerns about it. This type of involvement will help potential resisters develop a sense of ownership in the change that can, in turn, convert them to advocates.

Avoid Surprises Predictability is important to people. This is one of the reasons they resist change. Change is un­predictable: it brings with it the specter of the unknown. For this reason, it is better to bring potential resisters into the process from the outset. Surprising potential resisters will turn them into committed resisters.

Move Slowly at First To gain the support of potential re­sisters, it is necessary to let them evaluate the proposed change, express their concerns, weigh the expected benefits, and find ways to alleviate problems. This can take time. However, if ad­vocates are perceived as rushing the change through, potential resisters will become distrustful and “dig in their heels.”

Start Small and Be Flexible Change will be more read­ily accepted if advocates start small and are flexible enough to revise strategies that are not working as planned. This ap­proach offers several benefits, including the following:

  1. Starting with a small pilot test or experiment is less threaten­ing than a broad-based, all-encompassing implementation.
  2. Conducting a small pilot test can help identify unantici­pated problems with the change.
  3. Using the results of a pilot test to revise the plans for change ensures that valuable resources are not wasted moving in the wrong direction.

Create a Positive Environment The environment in which change takes place is determined by reward and rec­ognition systems and examples set by managers. A reward and recognition system that does not reward risk taking or that punishes employees for ideas that don’t work will un­dermine change. Managers who take “Do as I say, not as I do” attitudes will also undermine change. Well-thought-out, sincere attempts to make improvements should be recog­nized and rewarded even when they fail. Managers should “roll up their sleeves” and do their share of the work associ­ated with change. This approach will create a positive envi­ronment that is conducive to change.

Incorporate the Change Change will be more readily accepted if it can be incorporated into the existing organiza­tional culture. Of course, this is not always possible. However, when it can be done, it should be done. An example might be using an established equipment maintenance schedule to make major new equipment adaptations (e.g., retrofitting manually controlled machine tools for numerical control).

Provide a Quid Pro Quo This strategy could also be called require something, give something. If, for example, change will require intense extra effort on the part of selected employees for a given period of time, offer these employees some paid time off either before or immediately after the change is implemented. Using a quid pro quo can show em­ployees that they are valued.

Respond Quickly and Positively When potential re­sisters raise questions or express concerns, advocates should respond quickly and positively. Making employees wait for answers magnifies the intensity of their concerns. A quick response can often eliminate the concern before it becomes a problem, and it will show employees that their concerns are considered important. A quick response does not mean a surface-level or inaccurate response made before having all the facts. Rather, it means a response made as soon as one can be made thoroughly and accurately. It is also important to respond positively. Advocates should not be offended by or impatient with the questions of potential resisters. A negative attitude toward questions and concerns only magnifies them.

Work with Established Leaders In any organization, some people are regarded as leaders. In some cases, those people are in leadership positions (supervisors, middle man­agers, team captains, etc.). In other cases, they are informal leaders (highly respected employees whose status is based on their experience or superior knowledge and skills). The support of such leaders is critical. Other employees will take cues from them. The best way to get their support is to in­volve them in planning for the change from the outset.

Treat People with Dignity and Respect This strategy is fundamental to all aspects of total quality. It requires be­havior that acknowledges the human resource as the organi­zation’s most valuable asset. Without this strategy, the others won’t matter.

Be Constructive Change is not made simply for the sake of change. It is made for the sake of continual improvement. Consequently, it should be broached constructively from the perspective of how it will bring about improvements.

Source: Goetsch David L., Davis Stanley B. (2016), Quality Management for organizational excellence introduction to total Quality, Pearson; 8th edition.

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