"No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river, and he's not the same man."
This quote summarises a universal rule, that change is constant. This universal rule, mentioned in the quote above by Heraclitus 400bC, still applies in the dynamic world of business we live in today.
For an organisation to remain competitive and relevant in the market, it is indispensable that they constantly develop and adjust new strategies to address challenges and pressures. For it to become functional, it is necessary to understand the drivers and dynamics of organisational change and how that can impact your continuous improvement (CI) programme.
No matter what business or industry you reside in, you cannot remain competitive by recycling strategies – generally, every new strategy differs even a little from the previous one as the organisational goal is to evolve in a new direction. Continuous improvement (CI) programmes help companies evaluate, reconfigure, and continually improve their processes through incremental changes with the aim of developing an autonomous, self-learning organisation.
Consider the process of generating change like driving a car – all it takes for the driver to change direction is to steer the wheel. In an organisational environment, departments are not merely assembled, waiting static for the driver to set a new direction to cohesively move. Business-wise, one cannot simply create a new strategy - steer the wheel - in a new direction and expect the whole organisation to follow. Those in leadership roles must always be steering the wheels, and for an organisation to embrace change, leaders must guide new directions, actively and extensively communicate, involve employees, implement new management systems, bring in new intellectual capital, and review organisational structure.
Drivers of Change
We live in the era of delayering, limited resources, deregulation and technological advancements and whilst, in the modern world, technological advancements are rife, they often become obsolete. All these changes occurring in the business environment are driven mainly by technology, government and globalisation. These are seen as significant drivers of change, and additional drivers are as follows:
- Demanding clients
- Competition pressure
- Technological advancements generating constant obsolescence
- Customising products to meet customers’ requirements
- Economic climate
- Business performance
- Technological advancements that specifically affect production, labour and material cost
- The advancements in e-commerce
- Artificial Intelligence (AI)
- Virtual Reality
These forces push organisations to change to maintain competitiveness and relevance to the market. It causes the business organisations to adapt to the new dynamics, which is sometimes unsuccessful.
Organisational Change Failure
Even though the conventional idea is that organisations must constantly change to remain relevant in today’s ever-changing environment, the reality is that it’s not always that simple. The market is evolving and new and more agile ways of managing change are emerging, but the success rate of organisational change has not improved; it has, in fact, become worse (a McKinsey report a failure rate of approximately 70% for organisation change). It’s also worth noting that the necessity of change is unpredictable; it is generally reactive, often discontinuous and caused by a situation of an organisational emergency rather than a desire to improve or grow. With so few successes in large-scale organisational change, it is intriguing to find out what could be a common factor in all these failed initiatives.
Failure in organisational change programmes is commonly linked to employee resistance. A longitudinal study with 500 large corporations in Australia demonstrated that employee resistance to organisational change was the most cited item as implementation difficulties found by managers during the introduction of change programmes. In this study, half of the organisations surveyed reported experiencing employee resistance. Managing employee resistance to change is challenging for change leaders, and it can overshadow other difficulties of the whole organisational change process.
1.Resistance to change
Organisational change can be seen as a tiring and energy-demanding proc
Resistance to change is apparent on a range of levels, from individual to organisational, and can take many forms, from opposition and apathy to indifference and cynicism. Whilst cynicism presents less attachment and disillusionment to the organisation and apathy, cynicism differs from apathy as the latter enacts feelings of displeasure in behaviours that directly influence the performance of the organisation. In the book Managing Change in Organizations, Carnall argues that people’s resistance to change is a ‘partial truth’ and that employees do not resist it; they resist the uncertainty that it unveils. Therefore, it can be thought that resistance to change comes from how the process is managed, not from the change itself. Moreover, the organisation’s history of change efforts plays an essential role in future change attempts. It happens mainly because past failures in the effort to change influence employees, and they become cynical about the possibility of success in future change initiatives.
2. Types of Resistance
Resistance to change presents itself in different forms and behaviours. According to Burke, in their 2011 research article, A Perspective on the Field of Organization Development and Change: The Zeigarnik Effect, there are three types of resistance: blind, political and ideological resistance.
- Blind resistance is when people are intolerant and afraid of change
- Political resistance presents itself when people believe that they will lose something after the organisational change is implemented, such as power, income, job, status
- Ideological resistance is when people genuinely believe that the planned change is faded to failure. It comes from differences in beliefs, philosophies and feelings
In the article, Why Do Employees Resist Change, Paul Strebel notes that resistance to change can present in three different personal compacts: formal, psychological and social:
- The personal compact is the agreement between the individual and the organisation.
- The formal compact is the most common dimension of a personal compact. It formalises the performance requirement and basic tasks an individual should perform for the organisation (job description, performance agreements and employee contracts).
- The psychological dimension relates to the implicit bond created between the employee and the organisation. It incorporates the mutual commitment from feelings such as dependence and trust between them.
- The social dimension measures the organisation’s culture through the dimension of the employee's compacts. Through the social dimension, employees evaluate the financial and non-financial organisation goals and balance whether the management is executing what they talk about.
This insight should provide enhanced understanding and judgement to your continuous improvement programme – resistance to change is arguably inevitable, whether it’s on a personal level, a specific department or a large portion of the organisation. Nonetheless, it is manageable.
3. Managing Resistance
Even though we live in a more advanced technological era, organisations largely consist of real people. Thus, organisational change can be considered primarily a personal change, meaning that, realistically, for organisations to change, it first requires people’s participation and individuals to change themselves. With their change, the organisation can subsequently evolve.
Managers need to help people understand the organisation's goal, why they should do it, how they will do it, and by whom, to minimise employees’ resistance to change.
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To lead an organisation toward change means continually balancing the organisation's and employees' objectives. Leaders should involve people, fostering their participation in the organisational change, increasing their trust in the management and affecting a more positive behaviour about change. When people feel involved in strategy making, they also feel more committed to making strategy happen effectively, and so involving people will not only minimise resistance but will also contribute to a more effective change process. Managers who build trust, provide the employee with information, encourage participation, make only real necessary changes, provide counselling and allow room for negotiation have more chances of succeeding in changing the organisation.
Drivers and Dynamics of Organisational Change: Key Takeaway
Ultimately, resistance to organisational change is an upward construct, oriented towards leadership, organisation and the future, often generated by disillusionment, disbelief in management’s ability, and competence to lead in an ever-changing environment. Typically, those who are resistant to organisational change focus their disbelief, disillusionment, distrust and pessimism upward toward their leadership, while managers only see their peers and superiors as incompetent and responsible for failure in change efforts.
To encourage organisational change, employees need to feel motivated, bonded, and they must believe in the overall cause as well as their leaders. This can be achieved by implementing a multilevel approach encompassing employees, managers and the organisation as a whole. The role that leadership plays here must not be underestimated. To successfully implement change, leaders rolling out continuous improvement programmes must be exemplars – driving change from the top directly through to the ‘shop floor level’. This is achievable with a thorough, professionally-led CI programme that aims to comprehensively implement change by fostering a world-class CI culture.
If you’re interested in learning how to design a world-class CI programme to transform performance, take a look at this article or download the free eBook here. Alternatively, if you require support from experienced, knowledgeable CI consultants, don’t hesitate to contact one of our experts – we are always happy to help.