Resistance to change is often reflective of energy devoted to closure attempts. That is people are attempting to finish what they feel to be incomplete in the historical structure of the organization. Providing some way for the organizational members to disengage from that history; to finish, at least to some extent, the past helps them to focus on the change at hand and the future of the organization. The same could be said of an individual in the process of change. The individual must be committed to the future and the new vision of the change being attempted. This involves being willing to ‘let go’ of past ways of doing things and embrace the new plan.
Honoring the past, whether it is the past of the individual in change or the past of the organization in the throes of change, can be essential in order for a new change concept or program to be installed and accepted. To move beyond the status quo often requires acknowledgement of what has gone before, even if the past was not necessarily good. For many people to move on and ‘let go’ there must a reiteration of what has been done in the past which has allowed them to get to where they are now. Once the past has been honored, seeing people’s responses on the change continuum becomes clearer.
In large measure, acceptance or resistance will depend on what people expect will happen. Optimists are apt to accept change while pessimists are apt to resent them because of the “fear of the unknown.” Not everyone in the organization will have the same view of change. Some employees will have mixed or neutral feelings about the change. Acceptance and attitude go hand-in-hand. If employees like the manager along with the way that the change is introduced, the change will be accept and even welcomed. If the manager is not respected, the change will probably be resisted. Probably the most significant reason why people will accept/welcome change or resent/resist change is related to their participation. Employees whose input is solicited about changes to be enacted are much more likely to work with management changes.
Points to Remember in anticipating resistance to change
1 Emotion cannot be countered by reason alone, but requires emotional reassurance.
2 Once trust is lost, it is very difficult to win back.
3 Criticism is not necessarily mere resistance; it may be well founded.
4 Once a program is up and running — working with communicated success— resistance will dwindle.
5 In overcoming resistance, prevention is better than cure.
Change is a process
Change proceeds along a continuum connecting the present to a future state. To get from the present to the future, an organization or an individual must go through transition. Understanding, encouraging, and guiding this transition from the present state to the future state is what change management is all about.
Present à Transition à Future state
Pain drives change. The two prerequisites for successful organizational change are pain and remedy. Pain is a critical mass of information that justifies breaking from the status quo. Remedy is desirable, accessible actions that will solve the problem or take advantage of the opportunity afforded by the current situation. Pain management provides the motivation to pull away from the present: remedy selling provides the motivation to proceed to the desired state. Every successful transition from the present state to the desired state entails these two prerequisites. For prolonged change, both elements must work together. Orchestrating pain messages throughout an institution is the first step in developing organizational commitment to change. A case for compelling urgency must be built. The pain of what people had/knew/cling to must be seen as greater than the price of transition. The key to motivating any change is liberating the target’s resolve to change.
Eight stages of resistance to change
Much like the grief process many of us experience with the loss of a loved one, there are eight distinctive stages through which people pass when they feel trapped in a change they don’t want and can’t control. These stages are: stability, immobilization, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing, and acceptance.
- Stability. This phase precedes the announcement of the change. It represents the present state, or status quo.
- Immobilization. The initial reaction to negatively perceived change is shock. Reaction in this phase may vary from temporary confusion to complete disorientation. Here, the impact of change is so alien to the person’s frame of reference that he or she is often unable to relate to what is happening.
- Denial. This phase is characterized by an inability to assimilate new information into the current frame of reference. At this stage, change-related information is often rejected or ignored.
- Anger. This phase is characterized by frustration and hurt, often manifested through irrational, indiscriminate lashing out. These emotions are typically directed at those in close proximity, who also are usually the ones most willing got be supportive, such as friends and family. So it is not uncommon for those closest to the target to be blamed, criticized and treated with hostility.
- Bargaining. Bargaining takes many forms. At this stage, people begin negotiating to avoid the negative impact of change. This point in the process signals that an individual can no longer avoid a confrontation with reality. All earlier phases involve different forms of denial. This phase marks the beginning of acceptance.
- Depression. Depression is a normal response to major, negatively perceived change. Likely symptoms here are resignation to failure, feeling victimized, a lack of emotional and physical energy, and disengagement from one’s work. At this point, the full weight of the negative change is finally acknowledged.
- Testing. Regaining a sense of control helps people free themselves from feeling of victimization and depression. They do this by acknowledging the new limitations while also exploring ways to redefine goals; this makes it possible to succeed within a new framework.
- Acceptance. People now respond to the change realistically. But acceptance of the change is no synonymous with liking it. It just means that the person is now more grounded and productive with in a new context.
Five key principles in the “Resistance to change” Pattern
Resilience is enhanced if you:
- Understand the basic mechanisms of human resistance.
- View resistance as a natural and inevitable reaction to the disruption of expectations.
- Interpret resistance as a deficiency of either ability or willingness.
- Encourage and participate in overt expressions of resistance.
- Understand that resistance to positive change is just as common as resistance to negatively perceived change and that both reactions follow their own respective sequence of events, which can be anticipated and managed.
To manage change well you must use sober selling as your approach. It is essential to divulge up front the real price for change. The truthfulness in the selling process will not eliminate the disruption that the change is causing, but it will engender better trust relations with your fellow colleges in change.
Resistance is inherent to disruptive change; the only variables are how and when it is manifested and what is done with it. Ambiguity is always accompanied by a resistance invoice. You can pay early or late, you can pay for managing resistance or healing from resistance – but you will pay.