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Published on 13 de July, 2017 at Consulting

Resistance to change within organizations (I)

By Pol Solà
4 min read

The desire on not to change is common in the life of the organizations, as it is also in the lives of people. Opposing resistance to changes is a very human attitude, and organizations are nothing more than grouped people for the achievement of some goals. Therefore, resistance to change in organizations is an extension of the resistance that we the Humans do.

Why do we oppose change?

Let us imagine the prehistoric times in which Humanity lived mostly in caves, in small Neanderthal groups hunting and collecting, looking for shelter in caves at night. We the Humans have been living like this for thousands and thousands of years, many more centuries that we have been in towns and big cities. Well, let’s now imagine that it happens a slow climatic and environmental change: climate became warmer, animals to hunt were more abundant and less seized, population increased, the rudimentary technology evolved and it became more frequent to contact new human groups.

In these new conditions, surely some humans claimed for abandoning settlements in caves -breaking families, rules, traditions- and discovering new areas for hunting, new landscapes, new places to settle, hunt, collect and reproduce. We can assume that other Neanderthals firmly opposed to break what we now call statu quo. And it is not mad to think that humans who had a more favourable social and economic position within the troglodytes firmly opposed to the claims of those who questioned the statu quo and wanted to leave. We can also imagine heated discussions, family dramas, strokes and stalking, even murdered. Pure primitive struggle to change or not.

Anyway, Humanity ended up leaving the caves, and so far, here we are. Why, therefore, resistance to change?


Some explanatory keys

Throughout the history of Humanity nations have become independent, new behaviours and social conventions have been adopted, technological changes have been generated, new systems of economic production and social reproduction have been developed. All these processes have had the corresponding resistance to change, an eager defence of the statu quo. Change, however, has gone forward. The new statu quo created is quite unpredictable, and surely it is largely the result of the struggle between the forces of change and the conservative forces.

Organizations are the engine of Humanity. An individual can hardly create a historical change, but a human group united into an organization can achieve a great deal of impact: The Roman Catholic Church, an army, a Nation State, an international organization, an association of professionals, a mercantile company, a political party, a community of owners, a sports club. All of these are organizations in which the dialectic between change accommodation versus resistance to change is also reproduced.

When an organization experience some difficulties for surviving or to fulfil its social purpose, it is time to address the change. When everything goes well it can also be a good time to tackle the change, but it then it is hardly done. When crisis appears, change adoption is mandatory, and at this moment forces opposing change appear in all its cruelty.


The reasons of the reaction

The reasons why people make resistance to change within organizations are:

  • Loss of personal influence and capacity in the after-change organization
  • They are a projection of personal selfishness since the person believes in the supremacy of their ideas and the inevitable need to impose them. That is, moral superiority
  • Fear to the unknown
  • Laziness and self-denial of effort

And the categorization of the arguments from which they express in a more veiled or more explicit way their resistance to change would be:

  • Legalism: Opposing the change by arguing legal impediments, especially linked to the organization’s governance system
  • Informationism: Alleged lack of information to adequately take a decision, searching for the paralysis by analysis
  • Elitism: to question the legitimacy of the whole people involved in the decision-making process, and willing to reduce it to an illustrated and qualified minority. The person who argues for an elitist approach always is self-included within the elite
  • Distortion: to appear publicly as a supporter of the change, but to argue that the foreseen change is not possible due several unpredictable reasons
  • Procastination: appeal to the lack of time according to the set schedule, to see precipitation in the process arguing that with more time the decision-making process will be more correct
  • Processing: criticize the up-to-date procedure followed by questioning decisions already taken because new information is now available, which was precisely not available at the time the decisions were made
  • Showcase: if the change takes place, some behaviours, attitudes will clearly appear as wrong, so the person seeks any argument against the change to safeguard their image and personal prestige

Fig.1.; Classical arguments opposing change


People resisting change often are not aware of the consequences that this may entail. They do not act in bad faith, but they are unable to balance their prejudices and the mere disappearance of their organization. When no decision is taken to avoid any change, the risk of disappearing for the organization is enormous. Change fighters reproduce in the XXI century the dilemma that already confronted Neandertals when some of them were opposed to the fact that Humanity abandoned the caverns. Fortunately, History shows that they have no future.

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