In current times, organizations face a number of global challenges arising from the development of new technologies, changing employee demographics, global competition, and economic changes in local or global financial and political markets. The organizations that are quick to adequately adapt to these environmental challenges get an organization’s competitive edge or advantages over others in the market.
This adaptation is determined by how much the change gets supported by the employees and management.
Yet, research by Burns (2000) indicates that nearly 40% to 70% of change initiatives fail in an organization. These changes may often fail due to resistance from the employees.
Why do employees resist organizational change?
Factors such as uncertainty regarding the security of the position as well as uncertainty towards their future roles and responsibilities, the related loss of control as to how predictable and explainable the changes are for the employee, fear of failure as employees fear not being able to withstand change, and disruptions in sense-making regarding how much structure and process of change makes sense to the employees are some of the biggest contributors to employee resistance.
Therefore, organizations that don’t work on these factors often find themselves in the middle of resistance from their employees.
- Resistance is not always a bad factor, it can also be efficient for the organization as it may encourage the management to re-examine their change proposals and improve their policies
What can we do about it?
Being aware of the problem is the first step to work on it, therefore it’s important for the organization and management to be aware of the symptoms shown by employees that are resisting change.
These symptoms include sudden lack of interest in the work, absenteeism just after the introduction of change, and hostility or aggression towards change.
Researchers identified that one of the best ways to implement a change is to make it less threatening to the employees.
For this purpose, they identified the following six conditions that organizations should work on to decrease the fear among the employees:
- Making change on a trial basis rather than a permanent basis.
- Letting employees know that the change isreversible if it doesn’t succeed or fulfill its purpose
- The change will be made in small steps rather than taking a huge leap or jump
- The change will be somewhat familiar and consistent with the past experience of the work processes.
- The change will be well fit with the organization’s current direction, and aligns with the goals of the organization
- The change will be built on the prior commitments or projects of the organization.
Kurt Lewin’s three stages to change:
Kurt Lewin proposed a three-stage model of change in the 1950s that still works today. He proposed that how an individual responds to a change is determined by the group he is part of. Therefore, to increase the efficiency of the change, the group must be considered during the process of the change.
He suggested that an effective change process has three following stages:
In the first step of the process, unfreezing means casting aside existing rigid attitudes and value systems, or organizational structures so that new ones can be learned.
- Understanding why change is necessary for the organization.
- Marketing an irresistible message of why this change is important.
- Communicating how the existing attitudes are causing hindrance in the change process.
The next step is the change implementation and here it gets tricky. There is no guarantee that the change will work hence, the organization and management need to be prepared with a few possible change plans and options.
- Sharing information on multiple levels of hierarchy in the organiziation.
- Answering doubts, questions, and misunderstandings of the employees.
- Promoting managers to take weekly small steps towards change.
- Defining a vision and motivation behind the change that gets communicated by leaders of the organization.
The final step is to sustain the change implemented in the previous step. This is crucial because without appropriate steps of sustaining new changes the old behaviors might come back.
- Tying the new changes into the culture by introducing specific smaller changes with the major changes that employees do want to change themselves.
- Creating a reward system to sustain changes for a long period of time.
- Offering training, support, and communication for both formal and informal methods to help employees learn the necessary skills to align themselves with the upgrades of the changes.
- Celebrate the success of change with all of the workforces.
Change is necessary for any organization to grow and survive in the current period of time and understanding why and how employees resist this change can create a window to build strategies to implement change effectively in an organization. For this purpose, Kurt Lewin’s model proved itself to be an efficient way to build change focusing on both individual and organizational factors.