October 27, 2012

MU0018 [Change Management] Set2 Q5

Q5. How do change managers recognize resistance of employees to change? 


Recognising Resistance

It is important to be able to spot the resistance to change when it occurs rather than get surprised when the change mysteriously fails. Identifying the same will help you to respond appropriately to it. This is one of the biggest challenges faced by the change managers. If you can catch the resistance early, it will then give you a chance to respond to it before it takes hold, hence, effectively nipping it in the bud. Let us first look into some of the early signs of resistance.

These can be in the form of:
• Gossip.
• Testing.

When a change is announced, the tom-toms will start beating loudly and the grapevine will bear fruits of much and varied opinion. Keep your ear to the ground so as to know what is being said around the coffee points. Listen particularly for declarations of intent and attempts to organise resistance.

Grumbling and complaints are natural ways of airing discomfort, so you should not try to squash it as this will anyway lead you to failure. The biggest danger happens when it is allowed to ferment in an information vacuum.

Respond to the gossip by opening it up, show that you are listening to the concerns and that are taking them seriously. Providing lots of valid information will help to fill the vacuum.

Just as a high school class tests a teacher’s ability to maintain discipline, so will some brave souls test out what would happen when they resist the change. An example, the resisters may not turn up to a meeting or may openly challenge a decision.

How you deal with such early resistance has a significant effect on what happens next. For example, you can shout at them and hurt their sentiments, or you can take an adult position, describe what they have done and assertively question their motives.

Resistance to change can occur in two ways, namely:
• Individual action.
• Collective action.

Individual action
Individuals, may resist, however, this is generally limited to the extent of their personal power. For those with a lower power, this may include passive refusals and covert action. For those with more power, the resistance may include open challenge and criticism.

An individual action must be handled individually. It should be started with those who possess a greater power and then the message gets automatically conveyed to those below.

An example of dealing with an individual who is resisting change: Disciplining a senior executive can send a strong signal to the other resistors.

Collective action
People generally do not bother of organising unless and until they have serious issues with the change. This gives rise to what is known as organised resistance. Organised resistance is usually a sign of a serious problem. When these people find a common voice in the organised resistance, then their words and actions could create a significant threat to the change, even though they might be individually less powerful.

Care should be taken while managing the collectives. It should be done by negotiating with their leaders rather than dealing with a myriad of smaller fires. You may be needed to make some concessions, but you can see to it that at least at the end of the negotiation you should be able to rescue some key elements of the change. You can also use the ‘divide and conquer’ approach, by striking deals with the individual key players; although this must be done carefully as it can cause a serious backlash.

An example of a collective action against resistance to change: Trade Union.

Resistance need not always be out in the open, in most cases it often starts out in a more underhand, covert way. Thus, we can conclude that resistance to change is basically expressed in two ways. These include:
• Covert resistance.
• Overt resistance.

Covert resistance
Covert resistance is the deliberate form of resistance to change, but done in a manner such that it allows the perpetrators to seem as though they are not resisting.

Covert resistance should be handled by showing that you know what is happening and investigations should be so designed so as to identify the people responsible.

When the resistance is covert in nature, you may also be required to resort to covert methods to identify the source and hence take appropriate action.

An example of covert resistance being expressed can be through the sabotage of various kinds.

Overt resistance
Overt resistance does not try to hide, as it is the result of either of someone comfortable with their power, or someone for whom covert acts are against their values, or someone who may be desperate.

Deal with the overt resistance by first seeking to respond openly and authentically. If they are blindly resisting, then you will be left with no alternative but to defend, for example by isolating and disciplining the culprits.

Although overt active resistance is potentially damaging, it is at least visible and there is the option of using formal disciplinary actions.

An example of overt resistance being expressed can be in the form of an open argument such as refusal or attack.

Another aspect of the overt resistance is that it does not necessarily need to take positive action as in some cases it can be passive. Let us read further to understand how overt resistance can be further classified. Overt resistance can be expressed through two types of actions. They are:
• Passive resistance.
• Active resistance.

Passive resistance
Passive resistance occurs when people do not take any specific action. Their main tool will be to refuse to collaborate with the change. They may agree and then do nothing to fulfil their commitments. This could become very difficult to address, as the resisters would have particularly not done anything wrong.

One way to address this is by getting the public commitment to an action, and by following it up publicly if required. This will ensure that they complete the action. This process should be repeated until they are either bought in or they give in.

For example, during meetings, they may sit quietly and appear to agree with the change.

Active resistances
Active resistance occurs when people take specific and deliberate action to resist the change.

It may be made overt, with public statements and acts of resistance, or it may be made covert, such as organising others to create an underground resistance movement.

Thus, we have seen the different ways of recognising resistance.

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