Effective ways to manage the Resistance to Change


Change at the work place


Change is a constant at the workplace and is inherent in the world that we live in. Advances in technology, culture evolution and globalisation are just some of the factors that have driven change. Resisting change is natural to many employees and there are many reasons why this happens. Catherine discusses how fear of job loss and bad communication of company strategy are just some of the reasons that result in resistance to change (Adenle, 2011).



Managing resistance to change


Limitation of management of individual opinion


The view to “change” between employees and top management can vary somewhat. Top-level managers see change as an opportunity to “align operations with strategy” and to “take on new professional challenges and risks” (Streble, 1996). However, for other employees “change is neither sought after nor welcomed” (Streble, 1996). Change is often too impersonal and often managers overlook the behaviour impact on other employees.

Managers are merely “navigators” and to control resistance to change at an individual level is limited (Palmer, 2008). This is supported by Sinclair who argues that it is important not to manage employees over simplistically but rather to “rehabilitate the importance of the emotional and psychological process without pathologising it” (Sinclair, 2011).


Ben – Eli further supports this by adding that over simplifying the inherent “complex” nature of change is sometimes appealing but in fact leads to “unintended results” and “even exacerbate the very conditions that it tries to resolve”. Managing such complexity at an individual basis to those resistant to change is a task with no definite positive result.



Culture of top – level management

Ben – Eli argues that the culture of top-level management is often the reason why managing change is often overlooked in organisations as “management culture tends to encourage an arrogant pretence at certainty” and “inhibits the spontaneous free flow of trial and error that learning requires”. It can be argued that this culture is inherent to organisations with large hierarchies and so therefore often limits the implementation to change management. Top management at Co-op recently took out large bonuses and will have unsettled its employees and will have created resentment and disrespect to those in high management positions, thus undermining the whole hierarchy of management (Doward, 2014).


Changing the “manager” behaviour to “leader”

Managers are experts in processes and function. The problem is that many managers use a “mechanistic tool” by “breaking change into small pieces and then managing the pieces”(Duck, 1993). Strebel argues that instead of treating each element of change in isolation, they should “understand how pieces balance off one another” to work towards the companies overall strategy and direction. Such behaviour is often attributed to leaders rather than managers. As Zaleznik explains a manager’s nature would be to “take an impersonal, passive outlook” and see goals as “arising out of necessities, not desires”. Such risk averse behaviour causes “communication by sending ambiguous signals”.


Theoretical approach to managing

By implementing Fayol’s Five Function of Management, high – level management can foster a culture of forward-thinking culture where all employees are engaged in the strategy of the organisation (Proven models, 2014). The challenge for management is then to minimise those resistances that stem from those listed by Adenle to only those that are less rational.


Keagan and Lahey (2001) argue that if managers were to help manage individual employee’s own perceived self-limitation, it would unlock the problem of irrational resistance to change.


Burberry has seen great steps of change in the last seven years from changing its ageing image that was synonymous to the “chav culture” to one that is at the forefront of fashion in the digital age. The news of the resignation of Angela Ahrendts, credited to the recent success and appointment of Christopher Bailey as CEO had caused great concerns to shareholders and employees alike. However, Bailey sent a clear message to all of those concerned to confirming that the vision is one that will remain creatively lead and that it is business as usual. The message would have eased employees who may have had doubts on job security and career progression. Yet Bailey will undoubtably be putting his own stamp on the direction of the brand and to trust his management teams to continue to demonstrate leadership to all the rest of the organisation.

It is undeniable that approaching change management is highly complex especially where it involves resistances at an individual level. Instead companies must foster a culture that is forward thinking so that there is an ethos that embraces change. The retail sectors have had to evolve their strategies amidst a challenging economic backdrop. Burberry has developed a innovative environment that has transformed it from a traditional retailer to one at the forefront of the digital and global retailing world. Changes in the top-level management may have unnerved stakeholders of the company however the company’s forward-thinking thinking approach was already embedded in its employees’ behaviour (Ahrendts, 2013).





Adenle, C. (2011) 12 Reasons Why Employees Resist Change in the Workplace [online] available at http://catherinescareercorner.com/2011/07/26/12-reasons-why-employees-resist-change-in-the-workplace/ [accessed: 28 March 2014]

Ahrendts, A. (2013) Burberry’s CEO on Turning an Aging British Icon into a Global Luxury Brand[online] Available at: http://hbr.org/2013/01/burberrys-ceo-on-turning-an-aging-british-icon-into-a-global-luxury-brand/ar/1 [Accessed: 27 March 2014].


Ben – Eli, M. U. (2014) Why is Managing Change Difficult? [online] Available at: http://www.sustainabilitylabs.org/files/Why%20is%20Managing%20Change%20Difficult_0.pdf [Accessed: 28 March 2014].

Duck, J. D. (1993) Managing Change: The Art of Balancing [online] Available at: http://hbr.org/1993/11/managing-change-the-art-of-balancing [Accessed: 28 March 2014].

Doward, J. (201) New Co-op storm as board awards bosses huge pay and bonus deals [online] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/mar/08/new-co-op-storm-pay-deals [Accessed: 28 March 2014].

Kegan, R. and Lahey, L. L. (2001) The Real Reason People Won’t Change. [online] Available at: http://hbr.org/2001/11/the-real-reason-people-wont-change [Accessed: 28 March 2014].

Nordmeyer, B. (2014) A List of Strategies to Decrease Resistance Change in the Workplace [online] available at http://everydaylife.globalpost.com/list-strategies-decrease-resistance-change-workplace-38923.html [accessed: 28 March 2014]

Lawrence, P.R (1969) How to Deal with Resistance to Change [online] available at http://hbr.org/1969/01/how-to-deal-with-resistance-to-change [accessed: 28 March 2014]

Palmer, I., Dunford, R., (2008) “Organizational Change and the Importance of Embedded Assumption” British Journal of Management,  19, 20-S32 [online] available from <http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?vid=15&hid=9&sid=c42479f7-8f91-4007-8262-469149f83944%40sessionmgr12&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=bth&AN=29993786&gt; [28 March 2014]

ProvenModels (2014) ProvenModels – five functions of management – Henri Fayol. [online] Available at: http://www.provenmodels.com/3/five-functions-of-management/henri-fayol [Accessed: 28 March 2014].


Sinclair, V. (2009) The role of resistance in organizational change programmes [online] Available at: http://www.bacp.co.uk/admin/structure/files/pdf/4220_a.pdf [Accessed: 28 March 2014].

Strebel, P. (1996) Why Do Employees Resist Change?. [online] Available at: http://hbr.org/1996/05/why-do-employees-resist-change [Accessed: 27 March 2014].

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