Agile Organizational Change: Three Levels of Resistance: The Individual


When we as coaches come into an organization to try to transform it, we are often met with resistance.  For us, it is a matter of “take the lumps because its good for you”, Do you wonder why sometimes, even in the face of a changing environment, or an existential threat, companies still don’t change?  Even when they say they want to, they still do not.  We can look at companies like Nokia or Blackberry to see examples of companies that resisted change, and when change did come it was too slow and too late.  So where does this resistance come from?

This is a part 3 of a 3 part series on Agile Organizational Change and the Levels of Resistance (The OrganizationThe GroupThe Individual).

Individual Level Resistance to Change

Uncertainty and Insecurity.  People tend to resist change because they feel uncertain and insecure about its outcome.  People will be given new tasks, role relationships will change, and some employees might lose their jobs while others get promoted.  During periods of change, we may see an increase in absenteeism and turnover, and employees may become uncooperative, attempting to slow down, delay, or passively resist change.

Selective Perception and Retention.  Perception and attribution play a major role in determining work attitudes and behaviors.  People tend to perceive information consistent with their existing schema.  Then, when change takes place, employees tend to focus on how it will personally affect them or their function or division.  If they don’t see the benefit, they will reject the change.  This can make it difficult for an organization to develop a common platform to promote change unless people see a need for it.

Habit.  People have a preference for familiar actions and events, and this can be a barrier to change.  Habits are hard to break because people have a built-in tendency to return to their original behaviors, this hinders and prevents change.

Counteracting Individuals Resistance to Change.  People resist change, and people resist being controlled.  This is one of the reasons 70% of corporate change efforts fail.  If the change is coming from the outside, resistance is usually higher.  Ensure individuals are a part of the change process.  Ensure their voices are heard.  Sometimes resistance is due to mistrust.  Mistrust is due to situations in the past where the individual may have felt misled or deceived.  Take the time to understand what the changes will include, who they will impact, how it will impact them and why they might resist.  This will help you anticipate questions, allay fears, and counteract resistance.

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