Organizational Development

Effectively Reducing Resistance to Change

Constant change in organizations is a given these days, with the rapid evolution of technologies and business practices that is prevalent across industries. Change brings with it uncertainty and is often resisted by employees for several different reasons, including loss of security and preference for the status quo (i.e., what is familiar). Gaining employee cooperation is crucial for the success of a change implementation within an organization, whether the change is big or small. Managers face a unique challenge in that they are responsible for motivating employees to accept organizational change, which can be difficult. Exchanges between managers and employees (i.e., leaders and members) affect the success of using different types of managerial influence to lower employee resistance to change. Specifically, how successful or not a particular technique is at decreasing employee resistance depends on whether the employees and managers have high- or low-quality relationships. Employees form unique relationships with their managers and supervisors by way of the many exchanges that occur between them. Employees may have relationships with management that are characterized by loyalty and trust, while other employee-manager relationships involve more antagonistic exchanges between those involved in these relationships. The exchanges (good and bad) managers have with their employees create expectations for how managers will act towards employees. If an employee has a good relationship with a manager, then the employee is likely to attribute positive intentions to actions taken by that manager, including actions related to organizational change. However, if an employee has a poor-exchange relationship with a manager, then the employee may attribute negative intentions to the manager’s words or actions, and thus be suspicious of, or even angered at, the manager. With such negative perceptions of managers, employee resistance to change efforts is not likely to decrease and resistance could even increase. Several influence techniques can be used by managers to gain cooperation from employees, for example: sanctions, legitimization, ingratiation, and consultation. The first two techniques are hard tactics, while the second two are soft tactics:
  • Sanctions involve administering punishments for not cooperating.
  • Legitimization occurs when managers explain how change is congruent with the organization’s needs and practices.
  • Ingratiation involves praising employees for their cooperation with the change.
  • Consultation occurs when managers ask employees for their input during the change process.

Implications for Practice

Managers must be selective in the methods they use to encourage cooperation with change. They need to be aware of how their relations with their employees can affect attempts at reducing resistance. It cannot be stressed enough how significant good manager-employee relations are to effectively decreasing resistance to change. Managers should take steps to improve difficult relationships or maintain good relationships with all of their employees. Effective managers will try to customize how they encourage change in a way that is most compatible for each employee in order to maximize acceptance. When selecting a technique for motivating acceptance, recall that less coercive strategies (rather than hard tactics) are effective. Finally, giving employees a voice in the change process may also be effective in reducing resistance within the organization. By prioritizing functional work relations between managers and employees, organizations will be proactive in implementing the changes that are critical to their growth and success.

Interpretation by:

Don Johnson

DeGarmo Group

This was a summary of the research and practice implications from:  Furst. S.A., & Cable, D.M. (2008). Employee resistance to organizational change: Managerial influence techniques and leader-member exchange. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93, 453-462.