Resistance: The Organisation's Big Problem

Essay by HENDAWYUniversity, Master's June 2006

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"People resist change." This belief is deeply ingrained in organizational life. It is inscribed in corporate documents, management textbooks, policy assumptions, executive training materials, consulting reports, and in societal media outside of organizations.

(Hacking, 1999) This belief, demonstrate that it is a poor metaphor for change management, show that "resistance to change" is not commonly defined in the literature, and offer the results of an exploratory empirical study which suggests that people may actually be more willing to embrace, rather than resist, change.

A person in one organization said resistance to change is like a mantra we feed ourselves: "In every team meeting we get together and spend the first twenty minutes saying change is hard. People resist change." This is an unexamined belief about human nature. Our assumptions about stability and the promises of equilibrium were all also promises and that is not how life is (Wheatley, in Maurer, 1996: 51).

Anyone who has worked in, or studied, organizations can testify to the poor track record of organizational change efforts. A meta-analysis of large-scale change efforts suggests that positive outcomes occur less than 40 percent of the time (Porras et al, 1983). Kotter (1995) observed a decade of change efforts and characterized a few as very successful, a few as utter failures, and the rest mostly toward the lower end of the scale. Pascale, Millemann, and Gioia (1997) report a Harvard Business School study which tracked the impact of change efforts among the Fortune 100. Of the change programs initiated between 1980 and 1995 (average expenditures exceeded one billion dollars per corporation), only 30% produced an improvement in bottom-line results that exceeded the company's cost of capital, and only 50% led to an improvement in market share price. In another study, senior executives in Fortune 500 companies reported that...