Many times in discussions and with client prospects one can clearly see that there is a lot of resistance to proposing changes among people. In general there are three reasons why people, departments, business units, and organisations resist changes. Those reasons are technical, economical, and political.
This is the most obvious reason why changes are resisted. The solution is technically not feasible. We can distinguish between 6 issues related to technical feasibility:
– the problem is not recognized and therefore there is no problem and no solution is required
– the problem is out of our control and we therefore can not have a solution
– the proposed solution is incomplete and will therefore not work
– the proposed solution will only create more problems
– there are numerous obstacles related to the proposed solution
– the problem can not be fixed. We do not know what to do
The second reason is the economical feasibility of the proposed change. There may be resistance because people may have the idea, perception or even the conviction that the proposed solution can not be implemented with the (current) organization’s resources and investments. Only a thorough financial and resource analysis can show whether this is true or not.
This is above all the most difficult reason to come to grisp with, because it is deeply rooted in both individual and organisational psychology. There are two reasons why people resist change from a psychological point of view:
– fear of losing security
– fear of losing power
Fear of losing security
In general people want to be happy. However, the biggest group wants to have security in order to be able to be happy. This is due to the fact that they will not be happy in an evironment of high anxiety. High anxiety results for these people when they do not feel secure. Security results from a sense of confidence in the predictability of future events. The high the consistent predictability of future events, the more secure they will feel. Changes render their environment inconsistent, which compromises predictability. In general one can therefore state that the greater the proposed change the less predictable the future events will be and the level of resistance higher.
Fear of losing power
Political feasibility is the most dangerous and hidden reason for resistance to changes, because it is based on the threat to someone’s personal power. A(ny) change could compromise their personal power. It is dangerous because these people will try to resist changes at all costs until they are totally isolated. But then it could be way too late. In general there are two categories of power:
Interpersonal Power Issues
Interpersonal power is closely connected to, or inherent in, the individual. It is power that is yielded by the person him/herself and consist of the following types:
– Legitimate Power; the ability to influence because of formal position in the organization
– Reward Power; ability to reward behaviour and/or compliance
– Coercive Power; ability to punish
– Expert Power; ability to excercise power due to superior knowledge and/or skills
– Referent Power; ability to influence and/or lead people by the sheer force of personality
This type of power is accrued based on the position in the organisation. We can distinguish three types of positional/situational power:
– Resource Power; ability to must cooperation in doing necessary work based on access to resources, information and support that others don’t have
– Decision-making Power; ability to influence and make decisions
– Information Power; ability to excercise informal power due to having information
We have mentioned these types of power situations, because changes in the alignment of power are often at the root of resistance to change, even when the reasons mentioned look more like technical and/or economical feasibility concerns.
We must understand and take into account that human beings are ‘wanting’ animals, who want security and above all power. And when they have it, they may not be happy about the prospect to lose it. So, they may attempt, overtly or covertly, to discourage a particular change or rechannel it into another direction – one which better serve their psychological needs.
This is very important to know and understand, because an additional aspect is that there is a direct relationship between the scale of change required, the threat giving rise to the need of change and the motivation of decision makers to embrace the change. At the same time, management’s receptivity to change varies inversely with the degree of change required. This is shown in the next table:
Based on these relationships, it is clear that no changes will be necessary when there is no threat. Increasing threat will require increasingly larger changes. Only the threat of failing to survive will necessitate throwing out the old system and do a total redesign. On the other hand, no change is quite popular among people and managers, especially among those who are well off or secure under the status quo. Throwing out the existing system and/or modus operandus is quite impopular as it is perceived so distasteful that there isn’t any motivation at all for it under normal conditions. Only the ultimate threat of not surving ( change or die ) could overcome the resistance to change.
The one million dollar question is therefore ‘where is your organization on these continua?’