Situational variables are important determinants in changing the behaviour of leaders (Vroom and Jago 2007) and as the business environment is an evolving field, it calls for dynamisms and adaptation to change. According to Ford (2009), change management refers to enabling individuals within an organisation to respond to new situations be adopting new means and approaches of performance. This process can be rather daunting and individuals may not be at ease to respond immediately to changes causing resistance. Central to the leader-member exchange theory is the feeling of reciprocity and fulfilment among employees (Henderson et al 2008). This psychological contract and the dyadic relationship between leaders and similar groups create a comfort zone for employees and they comply with the leader who reciprocates to their needs instead of bringing in variation. The fulfilment perception mediates the relationship and without this resistance will take fold. Mullins (2010) argues that individuals’ reactions to change are varied and the decision of whether to adapt or resist change depends on the individuals. In support of Mullin’s views, Kotter (2007) also proposes several steps to initiate and manage change; however, he also cautions that the performance and reaction to change is determined by the individuals working in the front-line. Although numerous managerial and leadership efforts are made to mediate the resistance, preferences of individuals dominate the decision to resist change. Two of the striking examples from my chosen service industry are JC Penny’s change of exhibiting first names on name tags and informal dress code took time to settle in the organisation as there was resistance to it at first. Moreover, when Swisscontact-Katalyst shifted its organisational status from horizontal hierarchy to more vertical hierarchy in order to motivate and reward employees through promotion, many employees who could not be promoted resisted to the change.
On the other hand, arguments against Mullin’s statement states that managers and leaders are in a position to manage resistance to change through different leadership techniques. Ford (2009) suggests that resistance can be a powerful form of feedback from employees and when treated with empathy it can give important insights and information to leaders and also signals the techniques that can be used to manage resistance. Thus resistance can be a powerful resource is utilised efficiently. Instead of suppressing dialogue managers should take a position to explain the changes to achieve ‘buy-in’. Also resistance can be used as a resource if managers draw information from the individuals that resist as they may have genuine information to improve the changing making process. Simultaneously managers can engage employees to share ideas for enabling the change process. Moreover, while initially planning the change process, leaders must diagnose potential resistance and the causes of resistance which usually occur as a result of the desire to not lose control of certain values, out of misunderstanding of the implications of change, belief that change would not bring any good and the low tolerance. Diagnosis of the reasons and potential outcome will help managers to plan mitigation actions to resolve any issues around resistance (Kotter and Schlesinger, 2008).
My focus on the service sector has serious implications on resistance to change. This is because in the service sector, employees, particularly operating at the front-line deals with external clients in order to provide services and any resistance to change can have negative implications on their performance which in turn will affect clients much more quickly than manufacturing industries. Examples of service industry change resistances include transportation strikes where a change in wage or salary structure may provide incentive to transport providers to not provide the service which not only hampers travellers but also hurts the reputation of the organisation. In the consultancy industry, if employees resist to changes they may not perform adequately in offering advice and consultation to clients. For example the clients of Bain and Company and Deloitte work with large corporate clients and resistance from internal consultants who work with external organisations may stall deliverables and may even hurt the organisation’s reputation. Moreover, with growing competition and exit options, external clients may quickly shift to other agencies and dissatisfied employees may move to another competitor. Hence, motivating them and managing conflicts is important.
In my view, although resistance to change is highly an individual preference, yet the outcome of the resistance can be mitigated using different management and leadership techniques.
Henderson, D.J., Wayne, S.J., Shore, L.M., Bommer, W.H. and Tetrick, L.E. 2008, Leader-member exchange, differentiation, and psychological contract fulfilment: A multi-level examination, Journal of Applied Psychology, 93, 1208–1219.
Mullins, L. J. (2010) Management & Organisational Behaviour. 9th edn. Harlow, Essex: Pearson Education Limited
Kotter, J.P. (2007), ‘Leading Change’, Harvard Business Review, 85(1), 96-103, Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 11 March 2013.
Kotter, J.P and Schlesinger, L.A. (2008), ‘Choosing Strategies for Change’, Harvard Business Review.