Readiness for Change Versus Resistance to Change

Introduction

The world is in a constant state of change and seemingly lacks organization and no one or no organization can escape the effects of operating in a continually dynamic, evolving landscape. So huge are these forces of change that the future success, and the very survival, of thousands of organizations depends on how well they respond to change. In fact, the organization should be able to stay ahead in a changing and increasingly competitive world. Some of the major changing forces in the world are globalization, relentless technological advances, unprecedented competition, political upheaval, and the opening of new markets (Cornelius III, 2007).

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Changes within an organization could include integration of departments, or organizations, establishing different culture or implementing technological changes. Change is continuous in nature, happens at a great pace and exerts constant pressure on organizations of all sizes and types. This calls for effective change management during these days. According to McNabb and Sepic (1995), change is the process of “altering people’s actions, reactions, and interactions to move the organization’s existing state to some future desired state” (Madsen et al).

Whenever an organization attempts to introduce change, it is likely to face resistance from its employees which acts as an opposing force to the readiness to accept change. This acts as a hurdle when the change is aimed at progress of the firm. Two distinct change dynamics currently receiving research attention are resistance to change and readiness for change.

Thesis: Overcoming resistance to change is one way of implementing change and a more modern approach is to create readiness for change, which is a positive approach and one that creates a culture in which change is embraced naturally.

McNabb and Sepic point out that the ability of an organization to implement change effectively depends on its culture, climate, policies and performance outcomes. Moreover, inertia, that is manifested as resistance to change in the operating philosophy of an organization can limit the adoption of change (McNabb and Sepic, 1995).There are five keys to effective change management: good communication, clarity regarding the benefits, clear leadership, participative decision-making and open-mindedness.

Communication must be two-way. While it must ensure that everyone is well informed, it should also enable employees to give their opinion to the top management. Secondly, people should know about the benefits clearly. Third, there should be clear leadership. Fourth, people need to be included in taking responsibility for making decisions. Finally, it is important that people who initiate the change are open and responsive. It has been found that in any significant change program, up to 30% of time and cost are spent towards change management (USDT and FTA, 2007).

There are many factors that affect the way an individual responds to change such as “age, sex, education, marital status, experience, time in the same job and occupation” (Bolognese, 2002). Similarly job factors and organizational factors also influence the way in which an individual or organization reacts to change. In the organizational context, change involves shifting from a particular way of doing things to a new and different way. Bridges (1991) believes that it isn’t the actual change that individuals resist, but rather the transition that must be made to accommodate the change.

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“Transition is the psychological process people go through to come to terms with the new situation. Change is external, transition is internal. Unless transition occurs, change will not work” (Bridges, 1991).

Resistance to Change

People resist change for many reasons: when there is lack of clarity regarding the change, when there are doubts in the minds of the employees, when people feel ignored, when the change seems to bring in new patterns of working relationships; when there is lack of communication; when people are not convinced about the benefits of change; or when the change leads to job-cuts; However, it has been found that people accept change more readily – if they find the information provided to them acceptable; if they are able to understand the benefits of the change; if they perceive it as safe; if they feel there is a need for the change; if there is a plan to implement the change in phases.

Sometimes, employee resistance can play a positive and beneficial role in organizational change. Resistance that leads to insightful and well-intended debate, criticism, or disagreement can help in unearthing new options and solutions (de Jager, 2001).

Resistance to change has long been recognized as a barrier to organizational change attempts. It encompasses a range of behaviors from passive resistance to active resistance or even aggressive resistance. It can be seen as a natural outcome of change but more recently the concept that “people resist change” is being refuted. For example, Kotter (1995) asserts that individual resistance is actually quite rare. Instead, he suggests that obstacles to change more often reside in the organization’s structure or in its performance appraisal or compensation system, which are not yet aligned with the desired new behavior. This observation shifts our attention from individuals to the greater organizational system within which the change is occurring.

Bartunek (1993) raises a second challenge to the popular notion of resistance by pointing out that virtually all discussions of change take the change agent’s perspective. In this way, any behavior that is not in line with the change agent’s attempts to create change is perceived as resistance. By logic, then, it becomes possible for consultants, change agents, and HRD professionals to create the very resistance by trying to enhance readiness through methods not appealing to the individuals.. Also, if the change agent makes a fundamental attribution error by deciding that older workers, women, line workers, etc. are likely to resist change, then he or she may be creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Dent and Goldberg (1999) note that people do not necessarily resist change, but instead resist the loss of status, pay, or comfort associated with the change. These distinct factors, as well as a consideration of methods for circumventing them, are lost under the umbrella of “resistance to change.” Thus, recent research finding is that resistance to change is a dynamic system force and not an individual predisposition.

Change is inevitable but the sense of upheaval can be kept to a minimum by considering three factors: timing, information, and influence. Understanding the importance of these three factors reduces employees’ resistance to change significantly and lets them know that the organization has a genuine concern for their welfare. First, people need enough time to think change through for themselves, time to get mentally prepared for a new situation. The resistance may not be to the change but rather to the speed with which management actually wants that change implemented. Second, when a new system or procedure is put in place, employees fight to retain the old system simply because they are apt to make mistakes on the unfamiliar one.

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Employees need as much information as possible about the change to get comfortable with it. Third, people want to have as much control over their jobs as they do over their personal lives. A good manager looks for ways that will allow those affected by a change to participate in the planning or implementation of that change. Resistance to change may not mean that people object to the change, just to the way the change was introduced.

Eric Dent and Susan Goldberg (1999) identify multiple causes of resistance as well as strategies to overcome resistance. Causes of resistance include surprise, inertia, emotional upset because of change, the break-up of established work groups, and uncertainty about change. Strategies for overcoming resistance to change include educating employees about why change is necessary, participation, making it clear that there is top level support for change and facilitation.

Resistance to change can emerge from anywhere in the social system. For example, an organization may not have policies in place that allow resources such as staff or machinery to be transferred quickly (Murray et al, 2005). In this case, resistance to change can emerge out of the structural inflexibility rather than from an employee’s fear or dislike of change. Rather than focusing on reducing resistance to change, an alternative approach is to focus on promoting readiness to change. Strategies to enforce such readiness consist of the following stages: Unfreezing, transition and refreezing.

To unfreeze an organization and make it suitable for change to happen three conditions must be met. Individuals must be made to recognize that there is something wrong with the current situation and this can be done by communication of the leader’s vision and building confidence through discussions (Murray et al, 2005). Secondly, the individuals must be made to feel guilt or anxiety about the current state of affairs. For example, if teaching loads are increased in a university, management must explain that this is because learning needs are not being met under the current system. Finally, psychology safety must be ensured.

This refers to an employee’s sense of being able to assure him that the change will bring no threat to his self image, status or career. This can be done through open discussions. The second step in Lewin’s (1947) model of change is the transition state during which change is actually happening. The final state of Lewin’s model is refreezing which refers to the institutionalization of change (Murray et al, 2005).

It has been said that organizational resistance has been used as “a not-so-disguised way of blaming the less powerful for unsatisfactory results of change efforts” (Knowles and Linn, 2004). At its best, though, the analysis of resistance at the organizational level allows for more collaborative and effective planning and growth (Knowles and Linn, 2004). But more recently, experts of organizational change have treated resistance in a differentiated and useful way.

George and Jones (2001) proposed a seven-step process by which individuals in organizations change, and they suggested that movement between sequential stages can be impeded by different forms of resistance (e.g., rationalization, learned helplessness, denial, complacency, subtyping, minimizing). John P. Kotter and Leonard A. Schlesinger have listed six approaches to minimize resistance to change: education and communication, participation and involvement, facilitation and support, negotiation and agreement, manipulation and coercion. Managers can use them to implement change effectively by overcoming resistance (Knowles and Linn, 2004)

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Readiness to Change

Armenakis, et al. (1993) define readiness for change as “the cognitive precursor to the behaviors of either resistance to, or support for, a change effort.” Readiness for change considers an organization’s capacity for making change and the extent to which individuals perceive the change as needed. By distinguishing between resistance and readiness, organizational experts argue for a more dynamic, proactive view of change, where change agents are seen as coaches and champions for change rather than monitors that react to signs of resistance. Readiness for change, although an individual-level construct, requires a consideration of the organizational context.

Eby and colleagues (2000) suggest that individuals have preconceived notions about the extent to which the organization is ready for change. Similar to Kotter’s (1995) argument earlier, these researchers assert that beyond personal attitudes toward the job and organization, an employee’s perception of readiness for change reflects the organization’s ability to make the desired changes successfully and this includes readiness of the system to change and available resources. Creating readiness involves proactive attempts by a change agent to influence the beliefs, attitudes, intentions and behavior of change participants and this view underscores the social aspects of change.

Staff resistance to the desired change is often excessive and immediate (McNabb & Sepic, 1995). McNabb and Sepic (1995) purported that a key goal of a company is to “introduce desired changes, while keeping anxiety, resistance, and subsequent stress to an absolute minimum.” Organizational change interventions cannot be successful unless individual change takes place. Individual change cannot effectively occur unless employees are prepared and ready for it. Increasing the overall readiness for change (RFC) of all employees may prove to be one of the most effective interventions an organization can initiate.

According to Backer (1995), an individual’s readiness for change depends on his beliefs, attitudes and intentions regarding the extent to which changes are needed and their perception of individual and organizational capacity to implement those changes”. Readiness to change is nothing but a state of mind about the need for change, which varies with changing external or internal factors, nature of change being introduced, and the characteristics of potential adopters and change agents.

Backer says that it is possible to have change even without readiness but he points to research that says the probability of success will be low. Low readiness leads to low motivation to change or to active resistance” (Backer, 1995). Thus, he emphasizes that without proper or complete readiness, long-term successful change cannot happen.

McNabb and Sepic (1995) introduced a model that identified the relevant factors determining RFC for an individual and an organization. These included organizational culture, organizational climate, organizational policies, and organizational performance outcomes. According to their model, these are directly linked to RFC. It was suggested that the “effective integration of culture, climate, and policies determines the ability of an organization to carry out its mission and to accept and integrate change” (McNabb & Sepic, 1995, p. 372).

Additionally, “inertia, manifested as a resistance to change in the operating philosophy of an organization, has been shown to be a powerful force” limiting the adoption of change (McNabb and Sepic, 1995, p. 381). Backer (1995) presented elements defining efforts to enhance change readiness which include contextual factors, message characteristics, and communication approaches that can be used to deliver them; attributes of change agents; interpersonal and social dynamics of the organization in which change is to take place; and specific enhancement interventions. He presented a model for this enhancement that included three stages: assessing readiness, contextualizing readiness, and enhancing readiness.

The identification of factors that influence readiness for individual change is an important endeavor. Studies show that employees who have more energy, strength, joy, and power from their work and nonwork lives and environments may be more open and ready for changes the organization may require of them. This provides support for organizations to offer assistance to employees so that they can have more energy to commit to change efforts.

Interventions may include assisting employees with balancing work and family responsibilities (flexible schedules, childcare assistance, job-sharing, training, and more), offering wellness programs, organizing communication improvement activities with management and employees, providing continual help related to improving job knowledge and skills, adjusting job demands when appropriate, providing programs to improve organizational commitment, and increasing employee autonomy.

It has been widely accepted that employees participate more successfully in change if they are included in the decision-making process for the change intervention (Hanpachern et al., 1998), but other studies indicate that the participative model is not always a precursor for successful change interventions. Locke, Schweiger, & Latham (1986) noted that “26% of the studies found that participation resulted in lower productivity” and concluded that “both scientific literature and management experience have demonstrated that participation is useful only under certain circumstances, a key requirement being that the subordinate has expertise to bring to the decision-making process” (Locke et al, 1986, p. 65).

Employees are more apt to support change if they are ready to make changes. This means they believe in the changes, have the time and energy to invest in the changes, and the organization is ready to support the changes. James Prochaska says there are four levels of people’s readiness for successful behavior change.

  • Oblivious – can’t see the problem; deny that they need to change, resist change efforts.
  • Contemplation – see the need for improvement and think about how to do it. They will talk about it but are not yet ready to do it. A person can get stuck in this phase for a long time just thinking about change.
  • Preparation or focus on solution – action plan; aware of problem, see ways to solve it and anticipate doing it. This is the time for a detailed action plan.
  • Action – visible change begins. The plan is embraced, practiced, and actions begin to change.

Resistance to change versus Readiness For Change

The five stages of change are precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance (Barrett, 1997). Characteristics of RFC are present in both the contemplation and preparation stages. Armenakis et al. (1993, p. 681) argued that RFC is distinguished from resistance to change, stating, “Readiness is the cognitive precursor to the behaviors of either resistance to, or support for, a change effort.”

Readiness can be distinguished from resistance by considering readiness as a cognitive, emotional state and resistance as a set of resultant behaviors. The degree of readiness a person is very important (Schein, 1979) and no change can happen without it regardless of the effort spent on rewarding, coaching or punishing. Schein attributes outright failure of change programs to ineffective readiness programs. Successful readiness programs have five core messages: that change is needed, is appropriate, is doable, is supported and has personal value for the target (Golembiewski, 2000).

When discussing forces that promote change, researchers have focused on readiness for change whereas resistance to change is focused on when discussing forces that inhibit change. Change readiness refers to an individual’s beliefs, attitudes and intentions regarding the extent to which changes are needed and the organization’s capacity to successfully undertake those changes (Armenakis et al, 1993). On the other hand, resistance to change refers to behaviors such as avoidance of change, or negative emotional responses about change such as cynicism, contempt, frustration and distrust of change (Murray et al, 2005).

When readiness for change exists, an organization is primed to embrace change and resistance to change is reduced. In the case of readiness to change, change can materialize from anywhere within the institution, instead of driven topdown as in the case of resistance to change.

Armenikis et al in their article titled “Creating Readiness for Organizational Change” contribute to an understanding of change dynamics by distinguishing readiness for change from resistance to change. Readiness is described in terms of organizational member’s beliefs attitudes and intentions. Coch and French (1948) have shown that creating readiness involves proactive attempts by a change agent to influence the beliefs, attitudes, intentions adn ultimately the behavior of a change target.

It is important to note in this regard that creation of readiness for change must extend beyond individual responses since it involves social phenomena as well, meaning, and the individual’s readiness may also be shaped by the readiness of others. Armenakis et al (1993) has identified three key strategies to increase readiness: persuasive communication, active participation and management of external sources of information. Decisions regarding leveraging each of these components into a readiness program should be guided by two considerations – the extent to which employees are ready and the urgency of the change.

Fox et al (1988) found that effective management practices such as planning, delegating and communication were associated with higher employee readiness to change in procedures and problem solving. Moreover, employees may be less ready for fundamental than for incremental change. When changes are urgently needed, the best strategy to be used will be persuasive communication. However, when there is more time on hand, a broader program maybe used involving persuasive communication as well as active participation (such as vicarious learning) and the management of external information (e.g., press releases). By combining readiness and urgency, various programs maybe designed for creating readiness for change.

Recommendations

  • While introducing change, the change agents must think beyond resistance and focus on reasons for resistance such as loss of control or loss of self-efficacy, context of the change and why it is not occurring, and considering whether the resistance to change is perpetrated by the change agent himself.
  • The organization must create and foster readiness and for this, change leaders, managers, and HR professionals should take into consideration the message for change, the manner by which messages are communicated, and the timing of events.
  • The social aspects of maintaining energy must be kept in mind during change. Early adopters can be enlisted to help spread the word about the need for change. This also suggests that negative information associated with a change should be communicated in situations or at times when social interaction is less likely to minimize its impact (e.g., e-mail or note rather than large gathering of employees).
  • It must be understood that an individual may respond to change either cognitively or affectively. Both responses are important carriers of social information.
  • The new dynamics of resistance and readiness to change urges change leaders to focus on the larger context within which change is occurring, to attend to the dynamic and energetic aspects of change, and to challenge underlying assumptions about resistance to change and readiness for change (Jansen, 2000).

Gaps and Research Suggestions

There are several areas where attention and research can be fruitfully applied in the context of resistance to change and readiness for change. Researchers and writers dealing with resistance and readiness can give thoughtful attention to the definitions that are invoked and implied by their theories and operations. Being clear about what one means is the first line of defense. The clearer researchers can be, the clearer their similarities and differences can become. Next, thinking and research can focus directly on taxonomic issues. There are many kinds of resistances. Knowles and Linn suggest that reactance, scrutiny, distrust, and inertia are four types of resistance in taxonomy of resistance (Knowles and Linn, 2004).

A clear and widely accepted taxonomy of resistances, readiness types, etc can provide further breakthroughs in the dynamics of resistance to change versus readiness to change. This would also help in making distinctions and comparisons in resistances with respect to readiness. Future studies of resistance and persuasion will do well to empirically investigate the convergence and discrimination among the various theories used to explain the dynamics of change management.

Practical use of findings

Understanding the dynamics of resistance to change and readiness for change can be used effectively to bring about change effectively. Knowledge of these processes help in understanding the processes involved in change and how the benefits of change can be best exemplified. The prospects for effectively introducing change are enhanced when the manager understands that the best way to initiate change is through readiness for change whereby resistance to change automatically decreases and there is overall positivity. A readiness for change culture is one in which change is easily accepted and actually embraced by the institution.

Organizations are becoming increasingly interested in learning how to create a permanent “cultural readiness for change” that goes beyond one specific change implementation project. These institutions strive over time to create an atmosphere that is not only ready for change, but also welcomes and thrives in it. And for this to happen there are three conditions to be met by the change targets: be business literate; feel as though they have the permission to act, and are willing to challenge the status quo.

The role of the leader in creating this type of culture is to initiate and reinforce the three ingredients described above. First, leaders must create and then support a working environment that is “business literate.” This means there must be a willingness to share strategic goals of the institution and department. Secondly, leaders should support stakeholders in having permission to act. Leaders must learn how to set boundaries and to give people permission to make decisions within those boundaries. Finally, to make this work, we must have leaders who encourage stakeholders to be creative and feel comfortable in challenging the status quo.

Conclusion

Mark Twain was right when he said that people want progress and not change. Establishing a “readiness for change” culture will ensure culture that embraces change easily and also likely to flourish under the changing conditions. While this culture cannot be established overnight, in time and with the proper leadership in place, any institution could experience a vastly dramatic cultural transformation through shifting to “readiness to change” approach as opposed to “resistance to change approach” during change management.

Bibliography

Armenakis, A. A., Harris, S. G. & Mossholder, K. W. (1993). Creating readiness for organizational change. Human Relations. 46(6), 681-703.

Backer, T. E. (1995). Assessing and enhancing readiness for change: Implications for technology transfer. In Backer, T. E., David, S. L. & Soucy, G. (Eds.), Reviewing the behavioral science knowledge base on technology transfer, National Institute on Drug Abuse, Rockville, MD, pp. 21-41.

Bartunek, J.M. (1993). Rummaging Behind the Scenes of Organizational Change–and Finding Role Transitions. Illness, and Physical Space. Research in Organizational Change and Development. Vol. 7, PP. 41-76. JAT Press. Greenwich, CT.

Dent, LB., and Goldberg, S.G. (1999). Challenging Resistance to Change. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science. 35(1): 25-41.

Eby, L.T., Adams, D.M., Russell, J.E.A., and Gaby, S.H. (2000). Perceptions of Organizational Readiness for Change: Factors Related so Employees’ Reactions to the Implementation of Team-Bared Selling. Human Relations. 53(3): 419-442.

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Jansen, J. Karen (2000). The Emerging Dynamics of Change: Resistance, Readiness, and Momentum. Human Resource Planning. Volume: 23. Issue: 2.

Knowles, S. Eric and Linn, A. Jay (2004). Resistance and Persuasion. Lawrence Erlbaum AssociatesMahwah, NJ.

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Madsen, R. Susan (2006). Influential Factors in Individual Readiness for Change. Journal of Business and Management.

Murray, Peter; Poole, David and Jones, Grant (2005). Contemporary Issues in Management and Organisational Behavior. Thomson Learning Nelson Publishers.

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