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This article is written by John Nze-Bertram, and:

  • Summarises the reasons put forward by Pat Row as to why individuals find change difficult to achieve
  • Discusses why people dislike (indeed, fear) change
  • Examines the reasons why the difficulty faced by individuals in accepting change is an issue that warrants examination in the academic study and ‘real world’ practice of management
  • Puts forward means that managers should implement to best overcome reluctance to change


School of Commerce/School of Management
University of South Australia


Savery and Luks (2000, pp. 309-317) explains that, an organization experiences three major changes including structure, technology and people. In response to these changes, an organization ought to plan for change that can be anticipated, and at the same time, create contingency measures that are flexible and can timely and accurately respond to sudden changes as they are occuring (Bungi, Victor & Lentz 2004, pp. 28-34). To assist management in minimising sudden changes, strategic management and planning techniques is important in order to forecast and predict the future of an organization. This enhances management’s ability to make informed decision about possible outcome of different change scenarios (Bungi, Victor & Lentz 2004, pp. 28-34). Consequently, this case study would discuss why people find change difficult, why they fear change, and the reasons why the difficulty faced by individuals in accepting change is an issue that warrants examination in the academic study and ‘real world’ practice of management. In addition, this case study would put forward means that managers should implement to best overcome employees’ reluctance to change.


Pat Rowe, a Managing Partner of the Rowe Partnership and an inspirational organizational leadership trainer, published an article titled ‘The Queen: Are We ‘Hard Wired’ or Can We Change?’ on the 8th of March, 2007. In this article, the author emphasises the importance of change, particularly, referencing a movie called ‘The Queen’ where an Oscar winning Helen Mirren portrayed the courage needed by the British Royal Family to embrace change, this is, despite their ‘hard wired’ regimental lifestyle. The article, informs that change is not easy but it is unavoidable and it is ‘critical to professional growth.’ The author, using the research by Jeffery Schwartz, the author of ‘The Mind and the Brain’, and Sharon Begley, author of ‘Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain’, demonstrated that individual can develop acute fixation to their own ways of doing things (Hard wired) that they resist any attempt to change. According to the article, this phenomenon is influenced by the brain. To illustrate this further, the article gives an example of how Rose the counsellor would find being confrontational (an area of less skill and experience) an energy sapping experience and therefore, would maintain her status quo and would resist any change that could expose her to confrontational situations. However, the author reiterates that ‘change is possible but requires effort.’ Furthermore, pleasure and pains was emphasised to be the primary motivation for change. Next, the article briefly states four steps taking to achieve change–these are: awareness, analysis, alternatives and attack. Finally, people were encouraged to critically focus on the positive end goals derived from change and stick by their self declarations, because those who constantly break their vows to change will never achieved change.


Greiner (1972, pp. 37-46) asserts that, once an organization is stabilized and a unilateral organizational culture is formed, and everyone has developed routines and regiments, any changes that are perceived to destabilize this state of comfort would be resisted. Change resonate fear in people, particularly, when such change is sudden and unanticipated (Bungi, Victor & Lentz 2004, pp. 28-34). Academics believe that, ‘uncertainty’ is the primary reason why people resist change; other reasons include threatened self-interest, different perceptions, peer pressure and bureaucratic inertia (Davidson et al. 2009, pp.538-39). For example, uncertainty about job security could lead an employee to resist change (Bijlsma-Frankema 2001, p. 192).

Resistance to change can be as a result of perceptual expectation or distortions (Kitchen & Daly 2002, pp: 46-53). For example, if a change is anticipated to diminish the influence, authority or role of an individual in an organization, he or she will resist the change (Foegen 1998, pp.2-5). In addition, having formed a regimental and organised way (habits and routine) by which an individual tackles their daily job routine (habituation), any ambiguity that displaces this bureaucratic system of coordination of work activities would be resisted (Burton-Jones & Hubona 2006, pp. 706-717). This resistance to change may be induced by perceived psychological or physiological stress. Older workers are most culpable to resisting change that involves learning new routines or skills, as this could be technically or intellectually challenging to them (Burton-Jones & Hubona 2006, pp. 706-717). People can also resist change in the workplace for fear of making mistakes or fear of exposing their hidden weaknesses (Pierce, Kostova & Dirks 2001, pp. 298-310). So also are individuals that have invested their life time specialising in a specific job task and have organised their family or social life to align with this workplace routines, they would resist any change that threatens this engrained morals, values and ethics (Burton-Jones & Hubona 2006, pp. 706-717). People’s resistance to change could be as a result allegiance to informal groups within an organization that are opposed to change (Steiner 2001, pp: 150-167). Other reasons employees resist change includes: feeling of guilt (survivor syndrome); and fear of loss of investment such as life savings.

Fieldler’s contingency theory on leadership behaviours explains that inflexible leaders (autocratic, democratic or laizzez-faire) would be threaten by a change in organizational culture, and therefore, they would resist change (Davidson et al. 2009, p.362).


According to Yoo, Lemak & Choi (2006 pp: 352 -368), critical analysis of Henri Fayol ‘s fourteen principles of management exposes the key factors why change is inevitable. It features unilateralist contexts such as unity of command, unity of direction, centralisation, stability of tenure of personnel, and esprit de corps. On the other hand, the same principle emphasises the need for innovation and creativity in order to facilitate organizational growth and competiveness. It is this later principle that creates change which displaces the equilibrium achieved with the former principles. This results to a dilemma where individual would have to restructure their formal and informal lives to congruent with the prevailing innovative change (Rodrigues 2001 p.880). And those who cannot change ‘fall-out’ of the system. From this inference, it becomes obvious that at one time or the other, even the most traditional and regimental organization or individual would have to change unconditionally or forced to change against their will (Davidson et al. 2009, p.42-3). This means that for an organization to retain their most valuable staffs, management would have to plan for change, and also prepare their staffs for change (Feinstein, Mann & Corsun 2002, p.732).

Considering the paradigm shift from the traditional to the contemporary model of change processes, it is imperative that efforts are being made to catapult the traditional managers (such as the baby boomers) to the contemporary business environment including blending their traditional know-how to contemporary best-practices, systems and dynamics (Easterby-Smith 1990, pp.24-8). For a traditional manager, using the Lewin’s three stage hypothesis of change process is what he/she would have been used to. This theory explains that to effectively implement change three stages have to be undertaking – these are: Unfreezing the status quo; changing the status quo; and refreezing the new status quo (Davidson et al. 2009, p. 537). However, this hypothesis is only ideal in a stable environment, therefore, limited in its application to this era’s dynamic business environment. This means that, the traditional Manager would have to change to a new ideology and concept in order to remain valuable.

This new paradigm is explained by Davidson et al. (2009, p. 537) to include a seven stage of change process. These include: recognising that change is necessary, setting the goals for which the change aims to achieve, using multi-dimensional analysis strategy to examine various scenarios of change (and its effect and outcome), then, selecting the appropriate change technique, planning how the change can be efficiently and effectively implemented, executing actual implementation, and lastly, evaluating the change to ensure that it has achieved maximum outcome and follow-up on feedbacks.

Dunphy and Stance (1990) cited in (Dawson 1996, p.60) asserts that the scale of change and the mode of change influences the approach a manager adopts in responding to specific situations in the organization. For example, in a stable environment where employees understand the reasons why change is needed – the best change process is to get the employees to participate in the change process and then, gradually implement changes on an incremental base. Whereas, Charismatic transformation is an enterprise-wide change that is implemented in response to an unexpected situation, but where the workforce welcomes the change (Dawson 1996, p.60). Forced Evolution is a timely implementation of change in phases, particularly, for the reason that a lingering tug-of-war among stakeholders is hindering the implementation of certain aspects of the change. And, Dictatorial transformation is an unexpected large-scale change that is implemented by coercing the workforce to accepting the change (Dawson 1996, p.60).
As part of an organization’s development strategy and in view to increasing efficiency, effectiveness and productivity in a dynamic environment, experts from external best-practice firms are contracted to analyse, develop and implement a phase by phase, or incremental change within an organization. This may involve up-skilling the employees in order to reduce the fear of change while introducing innovative ideas (Bowman & Daniels 1995, p.157).

According to Davidson et al. (2009, p.551-4), ‘Innovation is the managed effort of an organization to develop new products or services or new uses for existing products or services.’ Creativity is an aspect of innovation and involves: creation of new products and services or markets; modification of existing business structures, processes or products; and synthesis or combination of two or more existing things in the organisation to create new outcomes. Innovation can be classified as, radical innovation, incremental innovation, technical innovation, managerial innovation and product innovation (Davidson et al. 2009, p.551-4). Resistance to change is a serious impediment to innovation. Therefore, in order to facilitate innovation, management must encourage creativity, empower staffs to develop intrepreneurial skills, implement cross-functional and cross-specialisation programs; adopt organisational culture that encourages innovation and creativity (Davidson et al. 2009,p.556).

According to Davidson et al. (2009, p.555) ‘an organization’s culture consists of the set of values, beliefs and symbols that help guide behaviour.’ Dawson 1996, p.64) explains that to effectively coordinate an enterprise-wide change, the top level management would set the strategic goals that focuses on the broad general plans and goals; middle management would focus on the tactical plans including identifying specific actions to achieving positive change outcome; and the first level managers would handle the operational plans by directly utilising the tactical strategies to effectively motivate employee’s to support change.


According to Davidson et al. (2009, p.541), Force-field analysis ‘help a manager identify those forces that are driving the change and those that are resisting it’. Robbins et al. (2006) recommended six steps for reducing the resistance to change - these are: Firstly, through education and improved communication: The aim of this strategy is to empower the employees through up-skilling or training on new job and informing them of the reason for the change and how they, the employees could benefit from the change (Middlehurst & Barnett 1994, pp.48-66). This will increase employees’ morale and their solidarity with management. Second method is, through participation: As employees participate in decision making towards implementing change, they become stakeholders in the change process and are more cooperative towards change implementation, thereby, reducing resistance to change (Iles & Mabey 1993, pp.103-18). Third method is, through facilitation and support: This strategy is to notify employees of the impending change well in advance so that they can have time to adjust. In addition, incentives could be given to potential oppositions so as to induce them to step aside for a while during the period of change implementation .Next method is, Negotiation: This strategy involves coming to a common understanding with the oppositions through compromise (Robbins et al. 2006).
Next method is, plain manipulation and cooption (Robbins et al. 2006): This strategy involves, cleverly using rumour, distortion of facts and misinformation to divert the attention of employees, but at the same time, subtlety wooing the employees to accept the proposed change. Coercion is the last method (Robbins et al. 2006): This method involves out-rightly forcing the employees to accept change. Academics warn that the last two methods are toxic to an organisation’s human relations management (Folger & Skarlicki 1999, p.35). It can cause permanent damage to the interpersonal relationship between management and employees, and result in business turnover, absenteeism, loss of confidence, and outright deviant behaviours across the organisation (Folger & Skarlicki 1999, p.35).

Mayo and Hawthorne studies on human nature informs that, informal structures, counter cultures and frames of reference are other contexts by which management could explore to reduce resistance to change (Budd & Bhave 2006, pp. 5 -30). This involves targeting key informal leaders within an organisation and using them as conduits to pacify those resisting change or to rally support for change. According to Budd & Bhave (2006, pp. 5 -30) , when planning to reduce resistance to change , ideas from different schools of thought within the organization should be considered - This includes unitarism, pluralism and marxism frames of reference. Also, alliance with countercultures’ leaders within the organization are useful to reducing resistance to change and harnessing alternative view point that can improve decisions making (Fisher 1997, pp.37-48).

Unitarism views the organisation as a single unit consisting of like-minded people all geared towards the achievement of organisational goals under the single authority of the collective’s head [in organisational terms that would be management]. Phrases such ‘we’re all one big happy family’ and ‘we’re all team players’ are indicative of a unitarist frame of reference. To the unitarist, anyone who disagrees with the central authority or the way things are done is regarded as some kind of deviant troublemaker and the main method of dealing with them and the trouble they cause is to somehow eradicate them and reduce their influence.

Pluralism on the other hand accepts that any organisation, social entity or collective consists of individuals with their own self-interests as well as accepting, for one reason or another, organisational interests. Eventually any individual’s self-interest will impinge upon another’s or upon the interests of the organisation, just as organisational interests will of course sometimes impinge on an individual’s self-interest. To a pluralist therefore conflict is inevitable: it’s a fact of life, and the important thing is not to attempt to eradicate it because such a course is self-defeating as it inevitably leads to more conflict. The answer is to lessen the damage, conflict and dissension it creates and attempt to manage it by dispersing power more evenly via rules and procedures governing how conflict is resolved. Unlike unitarists (who view all conflict as basically bad and unwelcome), the pluralist sees it as both a source of possible innovation via different ideas and perceptions as well as a useful check on malpractices within the organisation.

Marxism however views the whole organisation (and capitalist society generally) as a means by which a small elite of wealthy owners (who possess the vast share of the unequal distribution of capital) coerce and exploit the large majority of the less-well-off to service that capital for the sole benefit of that elite. The Marxist therefore does not so much see conflict as inevitable, but as endemic within the very structure of society and the organisations run by capitalists for capitalists. In short, conflict is built into the system and it is a class-structured conflict based on the raw exercise of asymmetrical economic and social power. The way to eradicate conflict, therefore, is to change the whole system and replace it with a system that does not contain such an endemic source of conflict and oppressive exploitation. This type of view, if one removes the communist political overtones, is often referred to as radicalism. Radicals tend to go for large-scale systemic change, rather than the pluralist line of containment and incremental change.

All three of these frames of reference are present within any organisation and society at any given time. However each has their problems:

• Unitarists are in danger of creating organisations full of drone-type or sycophantic ‘yes people’ who never question the status quo and therefore are incapable of thinking beyond the square creatively or innovatively. Even if people are able to do this, they keep their mouths shut in case they are regarded as troublemakers in the face of centralised management prerogative.

• Pluralists on the other hand are in danger of being overrun by the rules and procedures they develop; in some cases the rules and procedures governing conflict and behavioural norms become more important than what they are designed to achieve.

• Radicals are in danger of smashing the system, but often have no better or viable alternative with which to replace it. Despite their criticisms of the system (which can often be valid), they merely want the change they want and can be completely unwilling to accept any counterargument from others – as Galbraith (1969, p. 87) once famously said ‘The man who argues with a Marxist has always been assaulting a rock fortress with a rubber flail’.

In order to reduce resistance to change, Hinterhuber & Popp (1992, pp.105-13) recommends a combination of the leadership and management approach. Path-goal theory of leadership and Transaction leadership involves ‘guiding and motivating followers in the direction of established goals, by clarifying task and role requirements’ (Davidson 2009, p. 369). Transformational leadership theorist suggests examining an individual’s personal fears towards change and helping that individual with a tailored solution to overcoming such fear (Davidson 2009, p. 369). Overall, managers should be able to adopt the best leadership approach in response to the change context.


Academics have conducted extensive research in the field of change and the result is that change is constant, inevitable and a part of life. This is supported by Pat Rowe’s article where he explained that though people maybe ‘hard wired’ to resist change, but they can still change if motivated by ‘pleasure or pain’. Other scholars blame uncertainty, threatened self-interest, different perceptions, peer pressure and bureaucratic inertia as the reasons why people fear change. In the contemporary work place, the fear of change is a great obstacle to innovation and creativity. Therefore, to solve these problems, the management need to have strategic plans in view to managing change and reducing resistance to change. This includes participation, education and facilitation. Also, managers have to understand the personality, motivation and perceptions of their subordinates including how to build effective teams in view to reducing an individual or a group’s resistance to change (Helms & Haynes 1992, pp. 17-21).






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