JC Penney Company: Resistance to Change

JC Penney Case study

What is resistance to change?

It refers to the psychological tendency among groups or individuals to retain the state of affairs that has existed for a long period (Smollan 2011, p. 828)

Why does it happen?

There are several reasons why change may be resisted in an organization. To begin with, some employees may fear the impact of the changes to be introduced in an organization. Since the impacts of the proposed changes may not be known, some workers can resist the new changes (Newman 2007, p.68). Second, low trust for the top management or officers involved in executing the new changes can also lead to change resistance. People tend to accommodate changes easily when they trust individuals implementing the changes. Employees feel safe when they are managed by trustworthy superiors. Besides, poor communication, temporary fad, exhaustion/saturation, and lack of consultation may cause resistance to change.

Why is it relevant to JC Penney?

Resistance to change was an important aspect to JC Penney bearing in mind that the company needed to overhaul its century-long corporate culture in order to regain its profitability. Since the organization was a large establishment with complex operations, introducing new changes would definitely be met with resistance from some employees (Purkayastha 2007, p.7). As a matter of fact, Ullman had to be very careful on how to go about the changes.

What changes took place in JC Penney that illustrate different types of possible resistance (change events)

Changing certain aspects of the formal culture was not an easy task after the entry of Mike Boylson as the chief marketing officer at JCP. He insisted that employees should simply call him Mike but the latter found it difficult to change the old autocratic culture. He was referred to as Mr. Boylson instead of just being called Mike as he had requested (Purkayastha 2007, p.8). This was one of the outstanding resistances to change at JC Penney. Usually, it is a difficult task to change a culture that has been practiced for centuries. Ullman worked tirelessly hard to change the perception of employees in various dimensions. However, it was also met with resistance.

How was this resistance anticipated or overcome?

Ullman introduced the changes at JCP gradually. Sudden changes were avoided because destroying a deep-rooted corporate culture could consequently affect the performance of the organization. He began by listening to the concerns, suggestions and grievances of workers at the company (Purkayastha 2007, p.8). This took quite a number of months. Some departmental team leaders were even sent to the International Business Machines Cop to receive capacity building on change management. The succession process was also implemented gradually over the years. For instance, Theilmann was recruited in 2005. This was followed by the retirement of Davis Gary. Theilmann started a series of piecemeal changes at JCP. Before any change could be initiated, employees were consulted. The benefits of the same changes were also communicated to employees in advance.

How was change managed to address these?

JC Penney eventually managed to implement major change programs at the organization. As much as it was a difficult task, the proposed changes were professionally managed in order to lower the level of resistance and discontent among employees. For example, both Ullman and Theilmann used transformational and democratic styles of leadership to manage changes at JC Penney. Employees were allowed to take part in every change process introduced in the company. The abolishment of surnames in addressing senior offices was also a critical way of establishing close friendship with employees. Working as friends minimized the level of dissatisfaction and resistance to change. The “Winning Together Principle” was also an effective way of addressing the relevance of introducing changes at JC Penney.


Newman, J. 2007, “An Organisational Change Management Framework for Sustainability”, Greener Management International, vol. 6, no. 57, pp. 65-75. Web.

Purkayastha, D 2007, Remaking JC Penney’s organizational culture, IBS Center for Management Research, Hyderabad. Web.

Smollan, R.K. 2011, “The multi-dimensional nature of resistance to change”, Journal of Management and Organization, vol. 17, no. 6, pp. 828-849. Web.