Implementing Organizational Change

The final step to be managed in the change process is implementation.  A new, creative idea will not benefit the organization until it is in place and being fully used. One frustration for managers is that employees often seem to resist change for no apparent reason. To effec- tively manage the implementation process, managers should be aware of the reasons people resist change and use techniques  to enlist employee cooperation. Major, corporate-wide changes can be particularly challenging.


Idea champions  often discover that other employees are unenthusiastic about their new ideas. Members of a new-venture  group may be surprised when managers in the regular organiza- tion do not support or approve their innovations. Managers and employees not involved in an innovation often seem to prefer the status quo. Employees appear to resist change for several reasons, and understanding them can help managers implement change more effectively.

Self-Interest. People typically  resist a change they believe will take away something of value. A proposed change in job design, structure, or technology may lead to a real or perceived loss of power, prestige, pay, or company benefits. The fear of personal  loss is perhaps the biggest obstacle to organizational change.73  For example, when FedEx first expanded into ground transportation to be more competitive  with UPS, the company’s express air service employees felt threatened. Managers smoothly implemented the change by being aware of this possibility  and taking  steps to alleviate the concerns. Similarly,  the acquisition of Kinko’s required FedEx managers to recognize that the self-interest of Kinko’s  employees could trigger  some resistance to changes in the organization.74

Lack of Understanding and Trust. Employees often distrust the inten- tions behind a change or do not understand the intended purpose of a change. If previous working relationships with an idea champion  have been negative, resistance may occur. One manager had a habit of initiating a change  in the financial reporting  system about every 12 months and then losing interest and not following through. After the third time, employees no longer went along with the change because they did not trust the manager’s intention to follow through to their benefit.

Uncertainty. Uncertainty is the lack of information about future events. It represents a fear of the unknown. Uncertainty is especially threatening  for employees who have a low tolerance for change and fear anything out of the ordinary. They do not know how a change will affect them and worry about whether they will be able to meet the demands of a new procedure or technology.75  For example, union  leaders at an American auto manu- facturer resisted the introduction of employee participation  programs. They were uncertain about how the program would affect their status and thus initially opposed it.

Different  Assessments  and  Goals. Another reason  for resistance  to change is that people who will be affected by an innovation  may assess the situation differ- ently from an idea champion  or new-venture group. Critics frequently  voice legitimate disagreements  over the proposed benefits  of a change. Managers in each department pursue different  goals, and an innovation may detract from performance and goal achievement for some departments. For example, if marketing  gets the new product it wants for customers, the cost of manufacturing  may increase, and the manufacturing superintendent thus will resist. Resistance may call attention  to problems with the innovation. At a consumer  prod- ucts company in Racine, Wisconsin,  middle managers resisted the introduction of a new employee program that turned out to be a bad idea. The managers truly believed that the program would do more harm than good.76

These  reasons for resistance are legitimate  in the eyes  of employees affected  by the change. The best procedure for managers is not to ignore resistance but to diagnose the rea- sons and design strategies to gain acceptance by users.77 Strategies for overcoming resistance to change typically  involve two approaches: the analysis of resistance through the force-field technique  and the use of selective implementation  tactics to overcome resistance.


Force-field analysis grew from the work of Kurt Lewin,  who proposed that change was a result of the competition  between driving forces and restraining forces.78  Driving forces can be thought of as problems  or opportunities that provide motivation for change within the organization.   Restraining  forces are the various barriers  to change,   such  as a  lack of resources, resistance from middle  managers, or inadequate employee skills. When  a change is introduced,  management should analyze both the forces that drive change (problems and opportunities) and the forces that resist it (barriers to change). By selectively removing forces that restrain change, the driving  forces will be strong enough to enable implementa- tion, as illustrated  by the move from A to B in Exhibit 8.7. As barriers are reduced or removed, behavior will shift to incorporate the desired changes.

Just-in-time (JIT) inventory  control  systems schedule materials to arrive at a company just as  they are needed  on the production line. In an Ohio manufacturing  company, management’s analysis showed that the driving forces (opportunities) associated with the implementation of JIT were (1) the large cost savings from reduced inventories,  (2) savings from needing fewer workers to handle the inventory, and (3) a quicker, more competitive market  response for the company. Restraining  forces (barriers) discovered by managers were (1) a freight  system that was too slow to deliver inventory on time, (2) a facility layout that emphasized inventory maintenance over new deliveries, (3) worker skills inappropriate for handling rapid inventory deployment, and (4) union resistance to loss of jobs. The driv- ing forces were not sufficient to overcome the restraining forces.

To shift the behavior to JIT, managers attacked the barriers. An analysis of the freight system showed that delivery by truck provided the flexibility and quickness needed to sched- ule inventory  arrival at a specific time each day. The problem with facility layout was met by adding four new loading docks. Inappropriate  worker skills were attacked with a training program to instruct workers in JIT methods and in assembling products with uninspected parts. Union resistance was overcome by agreeing to reassign workers no longer needed for maintaining inventory to jobs in another plant. With the restraining  forces reduced, the driving forces were sufficient to allow the JIT system to be implemented.


The other approach to managing implementation is to adopt specific tactics to overcome employee resistance. For example, resistance to change may be overcome by educating em- ployees or inviting them to participate in implementing the change. Researchers have stud- ied various methods for dealing with resistance to change. The following  five tactics, sum- marized in Exhibit 8.8, have proven successful.79

Communication  and  Education. Communication  and education  are  used when solid information about the change is needed by users and others who may resist im- plementation. Education is especially important when the change involves new technical knowledge or users are unfamiliar with the idea. Canadian Airlines International  spent a year and  a half preparing and training employees before changing  its entire reservations, airport, cargo, and financial  systems as part of a new “Service Quality” strategy. Smooth implementation   resulted from this intensive training and communica- tions effort, which involved 50,000 tasks, 12,000 people, and 26 classrooms around the world.80  Managers  should also  re- member that implementing  change re- quires speaking to people’s hearts (touch- ing their feelings)   as well as to their minds (communicating  facts). Emotion is a  key component in persuading and influencing others. People are   much more likely to  change  their behavior when they both understand the rational reasons for doing so and see a picture of change that influences their feelings.81

Participation. Participation in- volves  users and potential resisters  in designing the change. This approach is time consuming, but it pays off because users understand and become commit- ted to the change.  Participation also helps managers   determine potential problems and understand the differences in perceptions of change among employees.82

When General Motors tried to implement a  new management  appraisal system for supervisors in its Adrian, Michigan, plant, it met with immediate  resistance. Rebuffed by the lack of cooperation, top managers proceeded more slowly, involving  supervisors in the design of the new appraisal  system. Through participation in system design, managers understood what the new approach was all about and dropped their resistance to it.

Negotiation. Negotiation is a more formal  means of achieving cooperation. Nego- tiation uses formal bargaining to win acceptance and approval of a desired  change.  For example, if the marketing  department fears losing power if a new management  structure is implemented, top managers may negotiate with marketing to reach a resolution.  Com- panies  that have  strong unions frequently must formally negotiate  change with the unions. The change may become part of the union contract reflecting the agreement of both parties.

Coercion. Coercion means  that managers  use formal power to force employees to change. Resisters are told to accept the change or lose rewards or even their jobs. In most cases, this approach should not be used because employees feel like victims, are angry at change managers, and may even sabotage the changes. However,  coercion may be neces- sary in crisis situations when  a rapid response is urgent. For example,  a number  of top managers at Coca-Cola  had to be reassigned or let go after they refused to go along with a new CEO’s  changes for revitalizing the sluggish corporation.83

Top Management Support. The visible support of top management also helps overcome resistance to change. Top management support symbolizes to all employees that the change is important for the organization. Top management support is especially important when  a change involves  multiple departments or when resources are being reallocated among departments. Fred Smith, the founder of FedEx, got personally involved in communicating about the addition of ground  shipping services. By giving talks on the corporate television network, going on road trips, and communicating  via e-mail and newsletters, Smith signaled that the change was important  to the company’s  future  success. Without top management support, changes can get bogged down in squabbling among departments. Moreover, when change agents fail to enlist the support of top executives, these leaders can inadvertently un- dercut the change project by issuing contradictory  orders.

The example of Remploy Ltd. above illustrates how smart implementation  techniques can smooth the change process.

Communication  and participation were the key to smooth implementation of significant changes at Remploy’s factories. When managers use appropriate implementation techniques, resistance to change softens and the change process proceeds more quickly  and smoothly.

Source: Daft Richard L., Marcic Dorothy (2009), Understanding Management, South-Western College Pub; 8th edition.

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