Resistance to organizational change, how to manage it?
One of the main difficulties faced by organizations is undoubtedly resistance to change. This is a much more frequent situation than we think, in fact, there are very few companies where change does not generate resistance.
How can we combat this resistance to change within an organization?
In this article we explain what causes this resistance and what we can do to prevent it from slowing us down.
Changes generate uncertainty
All change generates uncertainty and people, in general, manage uncertainty poorly because we are not trained or accustomed to it.
This makes it essential to manage communication in the face of any change. Therefore, to the famous phrase “think big, act small” we have added “communicate in fine rain and only the learnings and results”.
In our experience, when talking about innovation there is a polarization between those who are excited about change and those who fear the uncertainty that change generates. In this sense, resistance is usually greater in those members of the organization whose remuneration is linked to variables and who, moreover, are doing very well.
Success generates a great deal of comfort and clouds the leaders’ view of trends, generating a kind of observational myopia. For this reason, we suggest that organizational leaders think about very radical innovations, but approach them as a succession of continuous improvements.
Resistance to change is more common in organizations in traditional sectors that tend to be less accustomed to rapid change, for example, companies in the industrial or mass consumption sectors. However, the gap between the organizations most and least affected by change is narrowing every day, and we encourage all of them to address the uncertainty of change in a systematic and systemic way.
Consecuencias de la resistencia al cambio
A maxim from the 1990s states that “the survival of an organization is linked to its speed of adaptation to change being equal to or greater than the speed of change itself”, so that resistance to change can ultimately lead to the company’s demise.
If we look at the short and medium term, the impact of an organization resistant to change is the loss of competitiveness and profitability. Therefore, either it reacts or its future is doomed to failure.
Examples of resistance to change
We can list numerous examples, some of them well-known, of organizations that have died because of one or another resistance to change:
Kodak. It was one of the largest companies in the photographic industry, but its resistance to digital change held back its success.
Blockbuster. It was a popular video store franchise in the 1990s. It resisted adopting the online movie rental model and was overtaken by video-on-demand platforms such as Netflix.
Sears. It was an American chain of department stores. It became America’s largest retailer, but its failure to adapt to the digital age and competition from Amazon contributed to its bankruptcy.
Nokia. It was the leader in the cell phone market for years, but its resistance to technological change and its failure to adapt to smartphones led to its decline.
Blackberry. It was once the leader in the smartphone market, but its resistance to technological change and its failure to adapt to the most popular operating systems contributed to its failure.
In addition to these organizations are those companies that were once the leading typewriter manufacturers. How many of them survived the emergence of word processors and personal computers? Olivetti, Remington, Smith Corona, Royal, Underwood, Adler, Brother, Olympia. Nakajima or Facit.
Tips for combating resistance to change in an organization
We offer a series of recommendations that, from our experience, can help organizations combat resistance to change:
- Adopt interactive strategies to manage uncertainty, normalizing change as part of the strategy. That is, devote part of the time to managing the known and a small part to exploring the unknown and managing change.
- Modify how all employees are compensated to include a portion for managing uncertainty.
- Train and offer resources, mainly time, to the entire organization in continuous improvement skills. Enabling, also, small spaces to practice the four innate skills that are essential for innovation and to which we refer with the acronym CICE: Curiosity, Imagination, Creativity and Experimentation.
¿Cómo gestionar la resistencia organizacional al cambio?
In this sense, it is essential for organizations to know their culture in order to identify where the accelerators and brakes are that allow them to stimulate these four skills.
Knowing the details of a company’s culture in the face of the challenge of innovation and resistance to change is possible through InnoQuotient, a unique tool for diagnosing the innovation culture of organizations, based on a solid and robust model, developed by two academics from Babson College, statistically validated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and published in the MIT Sloan in 2013.