Employees Resistance to Change

Subject: Organizational Management
Pages: 12
Words: 3279
Reading time:
12 min
Study level: PhD


Resistance to change is inevitable in the transformation management process within most organisations. The change management process in any organisation is majorly concerned with how employees can be reinvigorated and sanctioned to work with the new systems and resources (Folger & Skarlicki 2010, p.534). Managing change is focused on coming up with strategies that are critical in the prevention of resistance to change.

According to Kotter 1995, management efforts should always be focused on developing consultation procedures through which change exertions can be attained and shared within the organisation. The change management practices also emphasise the roles and responsibilities of managers at diverse levels of the organisation and the change process as well as the organisational atmosphere and structures (Zeffane 2006, p.57). Essentially, attaining the required changes within the organisation involves working out how well the required transformation is managed.

The need for managerial change toolkit and the role of management theories

Various managerial intervention strategies are available for organisations to effect the desired change (Zeffane 2006, p.57). Most of the management intervention strategies or toolkits are based on the change management models and the relevance of the concepts to the given organisation. The strategies have been identified to be critical in reducing any resistance to the planned transformation. The intervention strategies focus on improving the employees’ satisfaction and performance. The management toolkits normally focus on activities that enhance change processes through the modification of structures, technologies and operations (Folger & Skarlicki 2010, p.534). In addition, the management toolkits focus on changes in the processes, roles and procedures within the organisation.

The management toolkits on performance management interventions emphasise goal setting, progress evaluation, sharing feedback and reinforcing actions that lead to the attainment of goals. Employees’ development involves training and skills enhancement through various strategies (Zeffane 2006, p.157). The performance management strategies are normally applied to avoid any resistance to change by the employees.

Various studies have cited the importance of certain practices during the change management process. Kurt Lewin’s three-step model of change management and force-field theory of resistance to change focuses on the need for an appropriate communication strategy to manage successfully the required changes in the organisation (Post & Altman 2004, p.89). In addition, Kotter’s eight-step as well as Nadler and Tushman’s congruent models have put a lot of emphasis on the significance of suitable communication strategies in effecting change within the organisation. Kotter 1995 argues that change resistance can be minimised through the provision of prior information.

However, the information should be clear, precise and understood to avoid unpredictability, cynicism and uncertainty. Kotter’s management model is widely applied in change management as well as developing the management practices toolkit used by various organisations to execute their transformation processes.

Managerial practices and their underpinning rationale

Various management practices and models have been developed to aid in effecting change within the organisation. Depending on the perspective of the desired change, the management practices and models are normally applied at various levels of the organisation to successfully manage transformations (Strebel 2006, p.267). Essentially, the main aim of the prescribed practices is to reduce the employees’ resistance to the required changes.

One of the practices includes knowledge management and organizational learning. Knowledge management and organizational learning are important practices to the firm, particularly when operating in an uncertain and highly competitive environment (Folger & Skarlicki 2010, p.541). Knowledge management is the surest way of gaining and sustaining a competitive advantage for the organisation. The practices have been widely applied in various change management toolkits. With appropriate knowledge management in addition to a supportive environment, organisations can change their structure, design and align their processes to the needs of the market (Folger & Skarlicki 2010, p.543).

In other words, appropriate knowledge management within the organisation enhances the understanding of all the business processes including offering solutions to the current problems. Knowledge management promotes organisational learning, which in turn leads to innovation, creativity and increased adaptability to the current environmental conditions (Balogun & Jenkins 2003, p.68).

In large organisations, knowledge management is normally applied in the identification, selection, conveying and transfer of critical information and technological know-how. The processes enable the organisation to be efficient and effective in drawing solutions to the current problems (Strebel 2006, p.267). Moreover, the transfer of information and expertise increases the dynamic learning, strategic planning as well as decision-making processes within the organisation. For instance, in most academic organisations, knowledge management has been focused on making out and transferring knowledge to be jointly applied in various areas within the organisation (Zeffane 2006, p.159).

Current studies argue that effective knowledge management and organisational learning are supported by the organisation culture, structure, strategies and technology. The cultural component remains significant particularly in enhancing organizational learning. In essence, the application of the two concepts is the surest way of adding value to the firm, which in turn provides a sustainable competitive advantage (Balogun & Jenkins 2003, p.69).

Some of the established theories and debates within the management literature

Kurt Lewin’s three-step model

Lewin’s force-field theory is one of the models that have been widely applied in managing change within the organisation. The model argues that drivers and resistance to change are two opposing forces that should not be balanced. The driving forces should be greater than resisting forces to execute and attain the required changes (Balogun & Jenkins 2003, p.71). Essentially, when the two forces are in a balanced state, the required changes are not possible and the organisation is in a state of inertia. As such, management should concentrate on possible actions that reduce the resisting forces and maximise the driving forces (Balogun & Jenkins 2003, p.71).

For the organisation to attain the desired change, it must undergo a three-step process, which includes unfreezing, move and freeze. On the unfreezing stage, managers have to identify and appreciate the current state, identify factors and causes of resistance, recognise the drivers and create awareness concerning the need for change (Balogun & Jenkins 2003, p.71). Besides, the managers have to set the needed goals for the required changes.

On the moving stage, employees are involved in the change process. In other words, the moving step is the action stage where people are forced to take part in the change process (Balogun & Jenkins 2003, p.71). The final stage, refreezing, aims to make the changes permanent after the implementation process. It is at this stage where the managers are expected to stabilise the organisation after the implementation process.

Kotter’s eight-step model

According to Kotter 1995, eight steps need to be followed to effect change successfully within the organisation. The eight steps emphasise improving communication during the change implementation process. The eight steps include the need to create a sense of urgency, forming a powerful coalition, creating a vision for the desired change, communicating the vision, discarding any obstacles, establishing short-term wins, building on the change process as well as institutionalising the new approaches (Kotter, 1995).

Creating a sense of urgency involves the analysis of the current competitive environment. The management should analyse the threats and opportunities as well as strengths that would enable the organisation to overcome the threats and exploit the new opportunities (Kotter, 1995). In addition, the management should identify and activate the organisational driving forces to attain the required urgent need for change.

Forming a powerful coalition is the process of establishing the appropriate and competent management team that would drive and lead the required changes. The change management team must have a shared commitment and excellent obligation through renewal. Besides, the change management coalition should be powerful in terms of their positions, expertise reputations and relationships (Kotter, 1995). In most cases, the guiding coalitions are normally found outside the existing managerial hierarchy. However, such coalitions are necessary to effect major transformations within the current system.

Creating a vision for change involves the provision of a clear visualisation through the establishment of goals and strategies for attaining the strategic objectives (Kotter, 1995). In other words, it involves establishing a vision for the required transformation that is effectively conceived by the organisation’s stakeholders. The guiding coalition has the responsibility of providing a direction for the change process. The future of the organisation is foreseeable through appropriate communication and well-developed change principles and attainable goals that are appealing to all the stakeholders.

The next step in Kotter’s stages of change management is the communication of the created vision. Communication is identified as the most significant element in the process of effecting change within the organisation (Kotter, 1995). Essentially, for the change to be successful, a good communication tool to share the stated vision is highly required. Good communication is critical in changing the perception of employees and providing the direction for the desired transformation. The needed transformation is possible only when the employees are ready to make short-term sacrifices and when they clearly understand the need for change as well as when they are happy with the direction of the change process.

Getting rid of the obstacles involves taking into cognizance the existing resistance factors and finding ways through which such resistances can be avoided. One way of preventing the resistance is through empowering the employees, particularly the management coalition that is involved in executing the change process (Kotter, 1995). Good communication is one way through which employees can be empowered. Applying the best communication tool in conveying the vision of the desired change process establishes an infrastructure through which the obstacles of the desired transformation is avoided.

Creating short-term wins is the process of establishing immediate goals that can easily be achieved (Kotter, 1995). Such short success remains critical, particularly in motivating employees and causing reassurance that the desired change can be attained. The attainment of immediate success should also be accompanied by rewards, which in effect also increase motivation. Building on change is the strengthening of the achievements gained during the change process. The stage involves the promotion of the new products and services as well as the novel changes required to take the organisation to the next step in the transformation process.

Institutionalising the new approaches is the final step in Kotter’s change management process (Kotter, 1995). At this stage, the organisation is required to be prepared for the coming changes. Managers are expected to formulate the best approaches and institute the tactics into the organisational framework.

Generally, in both models, communication is essential in effecting the required change process. Most theoretical frameworks emphasise the significance of establishing a clear and realistic vision, which needs to be communicated to the employees through an appropriate change agent. The change agents should be responsible for communicating the vision, ideas and desired achievements. Most models remain critical in managing the expected employees’ resistance behaviour.

Further, based on the existing models of change management, most organisations have developed diverse toolkits for managing the change processes (Guimaraes & Armstrong 2008, p.194). Most of the developed toolkits have based their change management processes as well as the desirable management practices on the developed change models. Essentially, the management practices and tools for managing change remain essential in managing the change-resistant behaviours of employees within the organisation.

While these models are critical in the management processes, concepts have also been developed to aid in the change management process. One of the concepts is organisational transformation. The debate has been whether organisational transformation is the best concept to apply in managing change. The concept has been widely applied and adopted within change management practices. The reason is that organisational transformation intervention practices are transformational and undergo various processes before the desired changes are implemented and attained (Strebel 2006, p.269). The change management models and concepts normally propose the lineal stages through which the transformation process undergoes. However, the organisational transformation concepts provide a cyclical pattern of organisation change.

In other words, while various models and stages have been identified during the transformations by various theories and management practices, seldom do organisations move smoothly or linearly through these stages (Balogun & Jenkins 2003, p.71). The speed and pattern of movement also vary depending on internal and external factors. The slow transformation process is critical for the success of the organisation particularly in a complex and competitive environment (Folger & Skarlicki 2010, p.551). Slow growth and transformation allow the organisation to learn and understand the environmental dynamics, which provide mechanisms in which the organisation escapes the competitive barriers.

The organisational transformation process is different from the traditional linear mechanistic concepts, which are mainly concerned with orderly supplying or fixing defective items (Guimaraes & Armstrong 2008, p.194). In other words, organisational transformation allows the organisation to stabilise or do away with destabilisations caused by environmental factors. The problem-solving processes of organisational transformation including the move from the traditional paradigm, dealing with environmental stimulus, and adopting the new paradigm of creativity, innovation and discovery explain the reason why organisational transformation is a critical component process of the current organisation’s management practices in managing change (Guimaraes & Armstrong 2008, p.195).

Complex and uncertain contexts within which senior managers operate

Lack of integration between the management practices and the environmental uncertainties have been blamed for the failure of most of the transformation efforts within the organisation. The management practices and strategies should be integrated with the uncertainties that majorly emerge from the environment to succeed in the transformation process. The resistances to the organisation changes are normally associated with the complexities and uncertainties that exist within the organisation (Guimaraes & Armstrong 2008, p.196).

The managerial complexities are associated with the technological skills required to effect change as well as the environment in which the management operates. Some of the complexities and uncertainties include macro-environmental uncertainty, competitive complexities, market uncertainties as well as technological inconsistencies (Guimaraes & Armstrong 2008, p.194).

The macro-environmental uncertainties arise from the organisation’s general setting in which the management operates. In most cases, the complexities arise from the regulatory framework where the required changes do not conform to the set of laws of the industry or the country in which the organisation operates (Post & Altman 2004, p.93). The complexities related to the regulations normally affect the change management process. Besides, the statutory and regulatory framework, political and economic conditions also have a greater effect on the change management process (Post & Altman 2004, p.93).

Managers working in a highly competitive environment also face complexities in the change management process. In a highly competitive environment, implementing change becomes complex particularly in situations where the organisation is incapable of establishing the future level of competition within the industry (Folger & Skarlicki 2010, p.558). Managing change in such kind of environment is highly affected by the comparative influence of the competitors. In other words, the change process should be geared towards attaining an increased competitive advantage for the organisation. Besides, the direction of the change process is greatly influenced by the predictable actions of the competitors as well as their perceived strategies (Post & Altman 2004, p.93).

The market uncertainty originates from the lack of information concerning the demand dynamics and how it affects the management operations. Lack of clear information concerning the conditions of the industry’s demand and supply affect the operations of the organisation (Post & Altman 2004, p.95). Effecting change under such conditions may be detrimental to the organisation. Managers operating under such uncertain conditions of demand and supply cannot easily create changes within the organisation. Essentially, the uncertain demand and supply conditions are one of the major obstacles to the change processes within the organisation. Resistances to change under such conditions are normally possible among the employees.

Technological complexities originate from the incapability of the organisation to effect the change required due to a lack of the necessary skills and resources (Folger & Skarlicki 2010, p.561). The inability of the organisation to generate resources and generate knowledge and skills undermine its potential to compete effectively within the industry. Changes cannot be created under conditions in which the resources and technical skills are unavailable (Guimaraes & Armstrong 2008, p.194).

Change agents and their appropriateness for various present and future business and management practices

Successful changes within the organisation normally require a change agent as well as the management team to provide daily execution and support for the transformation executions. In most cases, the change management agents are tasked with the planning, organising and execution of all the actions related to the change implementation process (Post & Altman 2004, p.94). In particular, the change management teams are responsible for ensuring that the change process includes all the business processes as well as addresses the workforce needs. In addition, the management team ensures that all the infrastructures needed for the change processes are in place (Folger & Skarlicki 2010, p.574).

In most cases, the management team normally evaluates the changes implementation process progress as well as the associated risks (Post & Altman 2004, p.94). The change agents must be highly skilled in managerial practices to execute the required changes.

Change agents are also charged with the responsibility of coordinating communications greatly required in the change management process. The agents are supposed to provide information that is supposed to be shared among the relevant stakeholders (Balogun & Jenkins 2003, p.69). The change agents normally make decisions on issues relating to change management processes. The resources normally available to the change agents largely depend on the scope, size and complexity of the change efforts (Post & Altman 2004, p.97).

In most cases, change agents consist of representatives from most of the departments across the organisation to execute change within large organisations (Folger & Skarlicki, 2010). The success of the agents depends on the type of change to be implemented. For instance, the changes that need the formation of new products need change agents from the business areas.

Moreover, the management team’s composition also alters as the phases of transformation moves to the next stages, which required diverse skills to effect the required changes (Balogun & Jenkins 2003, p.69). Essentially, the structure and composition of the management team, as well as the responsibilities, are normally determined at the planning stage of the change process. In addition, the scope, responsibilities and composition are also based on the desired change and the technical know-how to execute successfully the transformation tasks (Folger & Skarlicki 2010, p.576).

Change agents or the management team remains critical for the management of the business particularly during the change processes (Balogun & Jenkins, 2003). The future of the change management processes depends on the skills and capabilities of the agents. The change agents are normally equipped with the necessary managerial skills required to manage huge transformations within the organisation (Folger & Skarlicki, 2010).


Change resistance among employees is unavoidable in the management process of large transformations within most organisations. As indicated, the change management process is majorly concerned with how employees can be reinvigorated and sanctioned to work with the new systems and the available resources. Besides, the practices involved in managing change are focused on coming up with strategies that are critical in the prevention of any resistance to change. The management efforts should always be focused on developing consultation procedures through which change efforts can be attained and shared within the organisation.

In addition, the change management process also emphasises the roles and responsibilities of managers at diverse levels of the organisation. Moreover, the change management procedures usually focus on the organisational atmosphere and structures. The management practices and the change implementation toolkits have been developed based on the change management models. The change management models, concepts and frameworks are applied at both the managerial and the organisational levels. Essentially, attaining the required changes within the organisation involves working out how well the required transformation is managed.


Balogun, J & Jenkins, M 2003, “Preconceiving change management: a knowledge-based perspective,” European Management Journal, vol.21, no.2, pp.67-79.

Folger, R & Skarlicki, DP 2010, “Unfairness and resistance to change: hardship as mistreatment,” Journal of Organisational Change Management, vol.12 no.1, pp.515-589.

Guimaraes, T & Armstrong, C 2008, “Empirically testing the impact of change management effectiveness on company performance,” European Journal of Innovation Management, Vol.1 no.2, pp.194-198.

Kotter, JP 1995, Leading change: why transformations efforts fail, Harvard Business School Publishing, Boston, MA.

Post, JE & Altman, BW 2004, “Managing the environmental change process: barriers and opportunities,” Journal of Organisational Change Management, vol.7 no.4, pp.88-99.

Strebel, P 2006, “Why do employees resist change?” Harvard Business Review, vol.74, no.3, pp.264-291.

Zeffane, R 2006, “Dynamics of strategic change: critical issues in festering positive organisational change,” Leadership of Organisational Development Journal, Vol.17 no.7, pp.156-184.