Great Resistance To Change Paper 1

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Resistance To Change

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Identifying both organizational and individual causes of resistance to change.

Describe how Lewin’s theory of change can be used to overcome resistance to change.

Integrate the assigned readings to your discussion and properly cite your specific references.

Format your paper consistent with APA guidelines.

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Resistance To Change

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Lewin’s field theory as situated action in organizational change Rosch, Ed Organization Development Journal; Summer 2002; 20, 2; ProQuest Central pg. 8

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Resistance to change: Enemy or ally? Anonymous Strategic Direction; Jun 2002; 18, 6; ProQuest Central pg. 21

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Resistance to Change

Learning objectives

On completion of this chapter you should be able to:

· Identify signs of resistance to change.

· Understand reasons for resistance to change.

· Be alert to resistance from within the ranks of management.

· Recognize the strengths and weaknesses of various approaches to the management of resistance to change.

One of the commonly cited causes for the lack of success of organizational change is “resistance to change.” As such, it is not surprising that it is a phenomenon that encourages some strong responses. Maurer asserts, bluntly, that “resistance kills change,”1while Foote colorfully describes resistance as “one of the nastiest, most debilitating workplace cancers [and claims that] there isn’t a more potent, paradoxical or equal-opportunity killer of progress and good intentions.”2 In a similar vein, Geisler describes those with a pattern of resisting change as “bottom-feeders” who resist change because of its potential to remove the “waste” (infighting, inefficient processes) on which they “feed.”3

At the same time, other commentators have a more sympathetic “take” on resistance to change. A stark example in popular culture is the treatment of change in the Dilbert cartoons.4 (See Table 6.1.)

TABLE 6.1 The Dilbert Principle on Change

People hate change, and with good reason. Change makes us stupider, relatively speaking. Change adds new information to the universe, information that we don’t know…. On the other hand, change is good for people who are causing the change. They understand the new information that is being added to the universe. They grow smarter in comparison to the rest of us. This is reason enough to sabotage their efforts. I recommend sarcasm with a faint suggestion of threat.
Changer: “I hope that I can count on your support.”
You: “No problem. I’ll be delighted to jeopardize my short-term career goals to help you accomplish your career objectives.”
Changer: “That’s not exactly—”
You: “I don’t mind feeling like a confused rodent and working long hours, especially if the payoff is a new system that I vigorously argued against.”
The goal of change management is to dupe slow-witted employees into thinking change is good for them by appealing to their sense of adventure and love of challenge. This is like convincing a trout to leap out of a stream to experience the adventure of getting deboned.

Source: Adams, 1996:198.

Similarly, the image that one has of managing change is likely to be associated with a different perspective on the meaning of resistance (see Table 6.2).

TABLE 6.2 Images of Resistance to Change

Image of Managing ChangePerspective on Resistance to Change
Director Resistance is a sign that not everybody is on board in terms of making the change. Resistance can and must be overcome in order to move change forward. Change managers need specific skills to ensure that they can deal with resistance to change.
Navigator Resistance is expected. It is not necessarily a sign of people being outside of their comfort zone so much as the fact that there are different interests within the organization and some of these may be undermined by the change. Resistance, therefore, will not always be able to be overcome although this should be achieved as much as possible.
CaretakerResistance is possible but likely to be short-lived and ultimately futile. This is because, ultimately, changes will occur regardless of the attempts of individual actors within the organization to halt them. At best resistance might temporarily delay change but not be able to halt its inexorable impact.
Coach Resistance is something that needs to be recognized and expected as change takes people out of their comfort zone. Change managers need to work with resistance in a way that reveals to the resistor that such actions are not in accord with good teamwork within the organization.
InterpreterResistance is likely where people lack understanding of “what is going on,” where the change is taking the organization, and what impact it will have on specific individuals. Making sense of the change, helping to clarify what it means, and reestablishing individual identity with the process and the expected outcome of the change will assist in addressing the underlying problems that led to the emergence of resistance.
Nurturer Resistance is largely irrelevant to whether or not change will occur. Changes will occur but not always in predictable ways. Therefore, resisting change will be largely a matter of guesswork by the resistor since change often emerges from the clash of chaotic forces and it is usually not possible to identify, predict, or control the direction of change.

This chapter investigates the phenomenon of resistance to change and what it might mean to manage it.


Although “resistance to change” is a deeply embedded concept in the field of change, attention to this phenomenon should be placed in the context of recognition that people do not always resist change. Instead, they will often “embrace change”5 and work enthusiastically in support of change. There are many reasons why people are likely to be supportive of change. Kirkpatrick identifies the following as possible outcomes that are likely to cause people to react positively to change:6

· Security. The change may increase demand for an individual’s skills and/or may put the organization on a more secure footing with subsequent impact on employment prospects.

· Money. The change may involve salary increases.

· Authority. The change may involve promotion and/or the allocation of additional decision-making discretion.

· Status/prestige. There may be changes in titles, work assignments, office allocations, and so forth.

· Responsibility. Job changes may occur.

· Better working conditions. The physical environment may change; new equipment may be provided.

· Self-satisfaction. Individuals may feel a greater sense of achievement and challenge.

· Better personal contacts. The change may provide an individual with enhanced contact with influential people.

· Less time and effort. The change may improve operational efficiencies.


Resistance To Change

Resistance to change may take many forms. Hultman draws a distinction between active and passive resistance and identifies a range of “symptoms” associated with each.7 The symptoms of active resistance are identified as:

· Being critical.

· Finding fault.

· Ridiculing.

· Appealing to fear.

· Using facts selectively.

· Blaming or accusing.

· Sabotaging (see Table 6.3, “Merger in Adland”).

TABLE 6.3 Merger in Adland

When the advertising agencies Mojo and MDA merged, a decision was made to house all staff in the same building. However, as an interim step, all creative staff (copywriters, art directors, and production staff) would move to the existing Mojo offices and all management staff (the “suits”) to MDA’s offices.One of the Mojo people required to move was its finance director, Mike Thorley. Mike was one of the original Mojo employees and had come to think of himself more as a partner in the business than as an employee. However, the merger quickly disabused him of this when, the same as all other Mojo employees, he had no warning of the merger. When the announcement came, he reacted with both shock and anger. To add insult to injury, he was now required to move to the MDA offices—a move that felt to him like a banishment—where he would report to MDA’s finance director, who had been put in charge of finance for the merged entity.The Mojo culture had been considerably less formal than that of MDA. It was custom for Mojo staff to have a few drinks together after work seated around an old, solid-white bench in the office. In an attempt to make Thorley and his Mojo colleagues feel more at home, a modern black laminate bar had been installed in the MDA offices. One morning, Mike Thorley arrived at work with a chainsaw and cut the bar in two.

Source: Coombs, 1990.

· Intimidating or threatening.

· Manipulating.

· Distorting facts.

· Blocking.

· Undermining.

· Starting rumors.

· Arguing.

Those symptoms identified with passive resistance are:

· Agreeing verbally but not following through (“malicious compliance”8).

· Failing to implement change.

· Procrastinating or dragging one’s feet.

· Feigning ignorance.

· Withholding information, suggestions, help, or support.

· Standing by and allowing change to fail.

This list is not exhaustive and there can clearly be some debate about whether the various symptoms are mutually exclusive (e.g., “ridiculing” and “being critical”). However, this does not reduce its value, which is primarily to alert us to the diverse range of phenomena through which resistance to change can be manifest.


Dislike of Change

It is very common to hear it said that the major impediment that managers face in introducing change is that people dislike change and will resist it. However, the difficulty with the blanket statement that “people dislike change” is that, if this is so, how do we explain that people sometimes welcome change? This suggests that it is unwise to assume an innate dislike of change, independent of context. Karp provides a possible explanation when he argues that people don’t resist change; they resist pain and one of the most painful things is boredom, which is the opposite of change (see Table 6.4).

TABLE 6.4 A Personal View on Change

John Cage, the U.S. composer, pianist, and writer provides an interesting perspective on the notion of innate dislike of change when he states, “I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.

Source: Maurer, 1996:23.

Discomfort with Uncertainty

As individuals we tend to vary in terms of how comfortable we are with ambiguity. Some of us revel in—or at least are not particularly perturbed by—“mystery flights” where the destination is unknown. However, others of us are uncomfortable in this situation, leading us to be resistant to change unless significant details of the journey and destination are revealed. For some, the uncertainty is magnified by a lack of confidence that they have the skills/capabilities needed in the postchange situation.

To the extent that the strategic intent is not complemented by clarity as to expected actions, the chances increase that employees will fail to convert a change initiative into supporting action at their level of the organization. The key point here is that the lack of supporting action is not due to overt resistance or even apathy; it is due to the lack of a clear understanding of what such supportive action would “look like.”

Perceived Negative Effect on Interests

The readiness for change will also be affected by people’s perceptions of the likely effect of the change on their “interests,” a term that can cover a wide range of factors including their authority, status, rewards (including salary), opportunity to apply expertise, membership of friendship networks, autonomy, and security. People find it easier to be supportive of changes that they see as not threatening such interests and may resist those that are seen as damaging to these interests.9

Attachment to the Established Culture/Ways of Doing Things

As noted previously, one valuable “image of organizations” is of them as cultural systems that comprise beliefs, values, and artifacts, or, put simply, “the way we do things around here.”10 Readiness for change can be significantly affected by the degree of attachment to the existing culture. Reger et al.11 argue that organizational members interpret change proposals from management through their existing mental models. In this regard they note:

A particularly powerful mental model is the set of beliefs members hold about the organization’s identity … Identity beliefs are critical to consider when implementing fundamental change because organizational identity is what individuals believe is central, distinctive, and enduring about their organization. These beliefs are especially resistant to change because they are embedded within members’ most basic assumptions about the organization’s character.12

Reger et al.13 argue that two specific mental barriers tend to undermine the acceptance of change initiatives that are interpreted as inconsistent with the existing organizational identity. First, passive resistance (for example, apathy or anxiety) occurs when managers exhort subordinates to implement a change without first clarifying the connection between the change and some aspect of the organizational identity. According to Reger et al., such a connection is necessary “for deep comprehension and action.”14Second, active resistance occurs when a change is interpreted as directly in conflict with key elements of the organizational identity. Greenwood and Hinings make a similar point when they argue that ways of organizing “become infused with a taken-for-granted quality, in which actors unwittingly accept the prevailing template as appropriate, right, and the proper way of doing things.”15

Perceived Breach of Psychological Contract

Resistance To Change

Employees form beliefs as to the nature of the reciprocal relationship between them and their employer, that is, a “psychological contract.”16 A breach or violation of this contract occurs when employees believe that the employer is no longer honoring its “part of the deal.” In a variant on this theme, Strebel argues that employees and the organization for which they work can be seen as involved in a “personal compact” that defines their relationship.17 This compact may be explicit or implicit (or a mix of both) and involves three dimensions: formalpsychological, and social. The formal dimension covers such things as the specific task that a person is employed to do, how this relates to tasks carried out by others in the organization, how performance is assessed, and the associated level of remuneration. The psychological dimension—largely unwritten—relates to expectations in terms of trust, loyalty, and recognition. The social dimension refers to the espoused values of the organization. According to Strebel, where the proposed change conflicts with key elements of personal compacts, the outcome is likely to be resistance to change.18

Lack of Conviction That Change Is Needed

It helps change advocates if the belief that change is needed is widespread within the organization. However, what seems obvious to some (“We must change!”) is not necessarily seen this way by others (“What’s the problem?”). There are many reasons that may account for complacency, including a track record of success and the lack of any visible crisis. People are likely to react negatively to change when they feel that there is no need for the change.19

Lack of Clarity as to What Is Expected

Sometimes proposed changes, particularly of a strategic nature, are not complemented by clear information as to the specific implications at the level of action by individuals. Where this is the case, the chances increase that employees will fail to convert a change initiative into supporting action at their level of the organization. “A brilliant business strategy … is of little use unless people understand it well enough to apply it.”20 The key point here is that that lack of supporting action is not due to antagonism toward the proposed change; it is due to the lack of a clear understanding of what such supportive action would “look like.” Taking this as their starting point, Gadiesh and Gilbert argue the virtue of organizations having a “strategic principle”; that is, “a memorable and actionable phase that distils a company’s corporate strategy into its unique essence and communicates it throughout the organization.”21

Belief That the Specific Change Being Proposed Is Inappropriate

Those affected by a proposed change are likely to form a view that it is either a good idea (“We needed to do something like this”) or a bad idea (“Whose crazy idea is this?” or “It’s a fad”). In turn, this view is likely to affect their readiness for change. As an advocate of a particular change, it is very easy to see those who support the change as perspicacious and to lament as myopic those who do not support the change. In this regard, it is not uncommon for those who are unsupportive to be given the pejorative label “resistant to change.” This is not necessarily an appropriate label given that the stance being judged is not a reaction to a proposal for change in a generic sense but to a proposal for a specific change.

In this regard, it is also worth considering that in some cases the “resistors” might be right; the proposed change may not be the great idea that its proposers assume. That is, sometimes “the voice of resistance can keep us from taking untimely or foolish actions.”22 The change also may be seen as inappropriate because of a fundamental difference of “vision.” Strategies are means to achieve objectives that flow from an organization’s vision. Change, as a part of the enactment of strategy, is therefore highly likely to be an arena of organizational life where divergent views over appropriate strategic direction will be manifest.

Belief That the Timing Is Wrong

People may resist, not because they think that the proposed change is wrong—they may, in fact, like the idea—but because they believe the timing to be wrong.23 This may be due to change fatigue (as noted above) or it may be due to a completely different matter such as the view that the proposed change, if it were to occur at the proposed time, would have undesirable effects on key customers or employees or alliance partners—effects that would not eventuate if the timing were to be altered.

Excessive Change

Stensaker et al.24 note the phenomenon of “excessive change,” which they characterize as having two forms. The first form occurs where an organization is pursuing several change initiatives at once and these are perceived by people in the organization as unrelated or, even worse, in conflict. The second form occurs where an organization introduces a series of changes and people in the organization feel that resources (including their time) are being reassigned to new initiatives before the earlier ones have been given sufficient attention for them to be effectively implemented. These “waves of changes” may produce “initiative fatigue” and “burnout,” which inhibit readiness for further change.25 Similarly, Maurer refers to this as a matter of “resilience,” arguing that people will resist further change when they are “just plain beat,”26 while Abrahamson refers to “permafrost” organizations where change-fatigued managers react to “initiative overload” by resisting further change and voicing “an aggressive cynicism.”27 (For more detail on “excessive change,” see Table 6.5.)

TABLE 6.5 The Organizational Effects of Excessive Change

In their research into the phenomenon of “excessive change,” Stensaker et al. identified three common organizational consequences of excessive change that they characterized as “musical chairs,” “orchestrating without a conductor,” and “shaky foundations.”Musical chairs— a reference to the children’s game—is the phenomenon whereby managers move frequently between a declining number of positions in a regularly changing organization structure. Unless carefully managed, this can have detrimental effects. For example, those managers who are the most capable—and therefore likely to be the most attractive on the job market—may be the ones who leave the organization rather than the lesser performers. Another detrimental effect that was observed was that with the “churn” in management positions, fewer people in positions with implementation responsibilities had a grasp of the overall strategic intent that lay behind the various change initiatives.Orchestrating without a conductor refers to the related situation where lower-level employees felt that they had been abandoned to their own devices because their middle managers seemed incapable of managing the change process. Sometimes this took the form of the incapacity of middle managers to translate the change initiatives into terms relevant to the daily work of the lower-level employees, because, due to restructuring at middle management level, those managers were not sufficiently familiar with the employees’ work.Shaky foundations refers to the sense by employees that the organization is in a chaotic state, in an uncomfortable limbo between partially abandoned past practices and partially introduced new practices. Where waves of change are involved, the new practices are in various stages of implementation from just introduced to nearly complete.

Source: Stensaker et al., 2002.

Cumulative Effect of Other Changes in One’s Life

Individuals’ readiness for change at work is affected by what else is going on in their lives. Indexes of stress comprise elements from diverse aspects of one’s life, not just those associated with the employment relationship.

Perceived Clash with Ethics

Piderit28 notes that research on obedience to authority indicates that resistance might be motivated by individuals’ desires to act in accordance with their ethical principles.29 However, this need not mean that the resistance is overt because, as Piderit also notes, threats to advancement or security can lead middle managers to not speak up about such ethical concerns.30

Reaction to the Experience of Previous Changes

The most reliable predictor of how people will interpret the implications of an announcement of change is their experience of previous organizational changes.31 Based on such experiences people develop “scripts” for “how change works” which become the “lens” through which they view subsequent change initiatives.32 (See Exercise 6.1.)

EXERCISE 6.1: Identify Your Change Script

People’s previous experiences of change provide them with a “script”—a set of assumptions/beliefs as to what happens in a situation of organizational change.

Based on your previous experiences of organizational change, what are your expectations in terms of what events/actions/outcomes will follow the announcement of a program of change in an organization?

Note: Choose the format that suits you; for example, one option is bullet points; another is a narrative (story-like) approach.

The significance of this is that managers, when seeking to implement change in an organization, are likely to be the unfortunate victims, or fortunate beneficiaries, of scripts that were generated in contexts in which they had no part and of which they are quite likely to be unaware. Where key elements of this script come from experiences in the same organization and maybe also the same managers, the impact on reactions to change is likely to be even more significant. Scripts are influential because they are based on real-life experiences and, as such, are likely to be given greater credibility than the words/assurances of current managers (see Table 6.6).

TABLE 6.6 Change Scripts: Implications for Managing Change

1. Begin change initiatives with a systematic inquiry into organizational members’ memories of past organizational changes.2. Don’t tell organizational members to leave their past behind as this is unlikely to occur. Because they are experience-based, scripts have a credibility that cannot be removed by edict. Suppressing them means that they “may go underground but they won’t go away.”3. If existing scripts are an impediment to successful change, their effect will only be challenged if the script-holders are subject to “direct, fully-engaged, rich-with-stimuli experiences” through which they learn that the change experience can be different/positive.

Source: Geigle, 1997:8.

Where the past experience has been negative, cynicism is likely to result, which in turn reduces willingness to engage in future change efforts.33 Stensaker et al. argue that the cynical, often-cited BOHICA (“Bend over, here it comes again.”) response is a strategy based on learning by experience.34

Disagreement with the Way the Change Is Being Managed

Dent and Goldberg describe this notion that people resist change as “a mental model that … is almost universally accepted in organizational life.”35 However, they argue, despite its acceptance, the concept “resistance to change” is severely compromised by its association with the idea that this resistance is a fundamental psychological syndrome.36 According to Dent and Goldberg, the use of this concept ultimately impacts negatively on the quality of change implementation because it focuses management attention on the supposedly innate reactions of employees to change and away from the quality of the management of the change process. Rather than framing situations as ones in which management must “overcome resistance to change,” they argue that they could often equally validly be labeled “overcoming perfectly natural reactions to poor management” or “common management mistakes in implementing change.”37

In a similar vein, Kahn advises:

In considering obstacles to change, we must keep in mind the deceptive nature of our concepts. When we want change, we speak of those who do not as presenting obstacles and resistance. When we want stability, we speak of perseverance and commitment among those who share our views. Behavior of people in the two situations might be identical; it is their stance relative to our own that dictates the choice of language.38

Piderit argues that the construction of the situation as one of “resistance to change” may be a manifestation of a fundamental attribution error; that is, those managing the change initiative attribute negative outcomes to the actions (“resistance”) of others rather than to inadequacies in their change management.39 (Note: This blaming is not one-sided; Piderit notes that employees are also likely to blame management for failed change rather than themselves.)40

It is easy to understand how a manager can be attracted to the proposition that the lack of success of a change program in which he or she is deeply involved is due to “resistance to change,” as this explanation displaces attention from the actions (specifically, the change management skills) of the manager to the actions of the recipients. It is also an explanation that is likely to seem very plausible to many people because of the “almost universal acceptance” of the view that people resist change.

EXERCISE 6.2: Preventing Resistance

Listed below are a numbers of reasons why people may be resistant to a change. For each of the reasons, identifyat least one action that could be taken by management to reduce the prospect that it will be a significant source of resistance.

Reason for ResistanceProposed Action
Dislike of change 
Discomfort with uncertainty 
Perceived negative effects on interests 
Attachment to established culture/ways of doing things 
Perceived breach of psychological contract 
Lack of conviction that change is needed 
Lack of clarity as to what is expected 
Belief that the specific change being proposed is inappropriate 
Belief that the timing is wrong 
Excessive change 
Cumulative effect of other changes in one’s life 
Perceived clash with ethics 
Reaction to the experience of previous changes 
Disagreement with the way the change is being managed 

However, while this explanation may be comforting to the manager concerned, it might not be the wisest course of action in an organization seeking to enhance the quality of its management practice. The latter is more likely to be served through a reflection on the contribution to the lack of success made by the way the change was managed. If a change is felt by those affected to be managed in a manner that is inappropriate—for example, insufficiently consultative—they may resist the change.41 This can occur even where they are supportive of the idea that the proposed change is needed.


Most discussions of resistance to change present managers as the advocates of change with lower-level employees cast in the role of resistors. However, it is important not to assume that the only ones who may not respond positively to proposals for change are “the managed” and not the managers. This requires a shift in the way in which we normally think of change; that is, as something that managers have to manage in the face of varying degrees of resistance from nonmanagement employees. While the latter certainly occurs in many instances, it is important to recognize that the managers in an organization are not necessarily always passionate advocates of change.42

One reason why it makes sense to recognize that managers may resist change is that while it sometimes makes sense to refer to managers collectively—that is, as one group—on other occasions it is the differences within the ranks of management that are of more significance. Change represents a situation where differences are often to the fore; for example, where a particular change initiative is proposed by some managers in a company (perhaps those within a particular department) but opposed by others (those in a different department). Managers, at least as much as any other category of employee, are likely to have within their ranks a range of opinions as to whether a proposed change is “a good idea.” Even where there is absolutely no question as to the dedication of all managers to the long-term interests of their company, different views are likely to form as to which initiatives/changes represent the best ways to achieve that outcome.

Even when we treat managers as one group, they may act in ways that, albeit unconsciously and unintentionally, resist change. Managers are likely to have particular beliefs as to the nature of the business that they’re in, who the key competitors are, and where future “threats” are most likely to come from, and these beliefs become “cognitive maps” that act as filters through which the plausibility/desirability of possible changes are assessed.43 Whereas lower-level employees may resist a change once it is in the process of being implemented, the resistance by senior managers is likely to occur at the stage of conceptualization of strategic options (see Table 6.7).

TABLE 6.7 Liz Claiborne

Founded in 1976, Liz Claiborne went public in 1981 and five years later was on the Fortune 500 list. During the 1980s, it achieved the highest average return on year-end equity of all Fortune 500 industrial companies. In May 1991, shares that cost $10,000 at the time of the initial offering now had a market value of $610,000.The company’s success began in the late 1970s when designer Liz Claiborne identified professional women as a growing market segment. Her approach was to design clothes that provided an option between the classic dark-blue suit and haute couture. The collections were designed to allow mixing and matching of items; by pioneering clothes production overseas, Liz Claiborne was able to add very competitive pricing to its attractions.Liz Claiborne sold its clothing in large up-market department stores. Although such stores were traditionally organized around classifications (such as blouses and pants), Liz Claiborne required a dedicated space to present its collection and rejected orders from stores not willing to do this. This developed into the idea of dedicated Liz Claiborne concept shops within department stores. Because of the popularity of its brand, Liz Claiborne was able to talk the stores into covering the costs of adding these shops. Also, stores were unable to purchase individual components of a “concept group” of clothes; they were required to purchase the full group (matching blouses, shirts, skirts, and pants). The company also had a policy of manufacturing about 5 percent less merchandise than was ordered by stores and had a no-reorder policy.However, by the early 1990s, some changes in the environment began to work against the Liz Claiborne approach. A trend toward more casualization in the workplace was initially underestimated by the company and, as a result, it did not produce clothing responsive to this need. Subsequently (1992), it did acquire Russ Togs, a manufacturer of moderately priced women’s sportswear, as a basis for its move into national and regional chain department stores; however, this move took the company head-on with competitors who offered reordering.At the same time, traditional department stores were under extreme pressure, many filing for bankruptcy and all seeking to cut costs. They cut down the retail support that they provided to their suppliers, a change that directly and significantly affected Liz Claiborne given its in-store strategy. Department stores also demanded larger discounts from their suppliers. However, the company refused to pay for retailing support or to cut prices. Liz Claiborne, with declining sales and lower margins for its retailers than other brands provided, became less attractive to department stores. Liz Claiborne’s net income went into decline and, from 1992 to 1994, its market capitalization fell from $3.5 billion to $1.3 billion.But why was this situation allowed to occur? Why was the management team resistant to change? According to Nicolaj Siggelkow, past success had created in the minds of Liz Claiborne executives a “mental map” as to the basis of the company’s success, which, although it may have been an accurate reflection of past performance, was not helpful as a guide to necessary action in the changed environment. He suggests that this situation was also contributed to by a sense of infallibility and “a tinge of hubris,” characteristics sometimes found in companies that have been very successful. A senior executive of Liz Claiborne is quoted as proudly stating: “We like to think of ourselves as the IBM of the garment district.”aP.S. In 1995, a new CEO, Paul Charron, was appointed who initiated a series of operational and marketing changes that reversed the decline in the company’s fortunes and, by May 1997, Liz Claiborne’s market capitalization was up to $3.2 billion.

a Deveny, 1989, cited in Siggelkow, 2001.

Source: Siggelkow, 2001.

In some instances, managers may feel themselves ready for change but “miss” the signs that it is needed. The process whereby this can occur has been called the “boiled frog” phenomenon, as it is seen as analogous to a classic experiment involving the physiological response of frogs.44 In the experiment, a frog is put in a pan of water, which is then slowly heated. As long as the water temperature increases slowly, the frog will stay in the pan until it boils to death even though there is nothing preventing it from jumping out at any point. However, if a frog is put into a pan of already boiling water, it will quickly jump out and survive. Organizations become the equivalent of the boiled frog if they fail to respond to a series of changes, each of which may be small but that cumulatively comprise a situation where the organization is placed in peril.

It is often when organizations are at their most successful that they are most vulnerable to this phenomenon, because success—interpreted as the “proof” that they are doing “the right thing”—predisposes them to be less receptive to cues that change is needed. The very characteristics that have led to success become, over time, the basis for an organization’s downfall. Information that should set off warning bells—such as radical environmental change—is either ignored or interpreted in such a way that it is seen as confirming rather than requiring a questioning of existing strategy.45 This phenomenon—“the paradox of success”46—has been popularized by Danny Miller as “The Icarus Paradox.”47 This is an allusion to the Icarus of Greek mythology whose wax wings gave him the power to fly high, so high that he got too close to the sun, whereupon his wings melted and he fell to his death. Several high-profile international firms, including IBM, General Motors, Laura Ashley, Polaroid, Apple, McDonald’s, and Xerox, have been identified as being affected by this phenomenon at some point in their history.48


In this section, we present a range of different approaches to the management of resistance. Each takes a different angle on how to deal with resistance. Collectively, they provide an array of options for managers to consider.

A “Situational” Approach

Harvard Business Review article by Kotter and Schlesinger provides the “classic” prescription on managing resistance to change.49 They propose six methods for managing resistance:

1. Education and communication.

2. Participation and involvement.

3. Facilitation and support.

4. Negotiation and agreement.

5. Manipulation and cooptation.

6. Explicit and implicit coercion.

This approach is “situational” in that they argue that the selection of method by managers should be determined by contextual factors (see Table 6.8). However, according to Kotter and Schlesinger, “the most common mistake managers make is to use only one approach or a limited set of them regardless of the situation.”50

TABLE 6.8 Kotter and Schlesinger’s Methods for Managing Resistance to Change

MethodCharacteristicContext (where to use)Concern (possible difficulties)
Education and communicationInforming people as to the rationale for the change; providing informationWhere resistance is due to lack of information or misinformationMay be very time consuming, which, in some change situations, may be a significant problem
Participation and involvement Involving people in the change process as active participantsWhere resistance is a reaction to a sense of exclusion from the processMay slow the process and may introduce an element of compromise in decisions that could reduce the optimality of the change
Facilitation and support Providing resources—both technical and emotionalWhere resistance is due to anxiety and uncertaintyRequires financial, time, and interpersonal support that managers might not feel able or prepared to give
Negotiation and agreementOffering incentives to actual or potential resistorsWhere resistors are in a strong position to undermine the change if their concerns are not addressedMay lead to a “watering down” of key elements of the change
Manipulation and cooptationSelective use of information; “buying” the support of certain individuals by giving them key roles in the change processWhere participation, facilitation, or negotiation is too time-consuming or resource-demandingThis approach runs the risk of creating a backlash if it is seen as a crude and unethical attempt to trick or bribe them into compliance
Explicit and implicit coercion Threatening people with undesirable consequences (e.g., firing) if they resistWhere the change recipients have little capacity to effectively resist; where survival of the organization is at risk if change does not occur quicklyThe desired change may occur; however, “support” achieved in this manner is likely to be superficial and a threat to the enduring nature of the change. Underlying resentment may come back to “haunt” the manager(s)

Source: Adapted from Kotter and Schlesinger, 1979.

The Resistance Cycle, aka “Let Nature Take Its Course”

One approach to the management of change presents the reactions of people to change as involving a progression through a series of psychological stages. For Jick and Peiperl, these stages are shock (manifest as immobilization), defensive retreat (anger), acknowledgment (mourning), and adaptation and change (acceptance).51 For Scott and Jaffe, the cycle has four phases, beginning with denial, then moving through resistance to exploration to commitment.52

Denial involves a refusal to recognize the situation being faced. This may variously involve outright denial (“this can’t be happening), ignoring what is happening on the grounds that there is no need to act any differently because “it’ll all blow over,” not being receptive to new information, or minimizing the necessary change in action (“all that’s needed are a few minor changes to what we do”). Resistance begins with the recognition that the situation is not going to go away; the past is mourned, stress levels rise, and both passive and active forms of resistance emerge (see previous discussion of signs of resistance).

However, within the Scott and Jaffe model, resistance is a phase that ends as individuals begin to separate from the past and become more confident of their capacity to play a role in the future that they face. The third phase, exploration, involves a reenergizing and a preparedness to explore the possibilities involved in the new situation. Finally, the individual enters thecommitment stage, where attention is focused on the new course of action.53

If the response of individuals conforms to this pattern, it opens up the possibility that a viable approach to managing resistance is to “let nature take its course”; that is, to minimize intervention on the grounds that resistance is a phase that is both “natural”—perhaps even necessary (as a coping mechanism)—and one from which individuals will emerge.54 However, Scott and Jaffe also argue that moving through the phases can take several months and that an individual can become “stuck” in a phase.55 Even if such situations are not the norm, they are sufficient to indicate that a laissez-faire response by management is likely to be unwise given that intervention may at least reduce some of the negative effects of resistance to change.

“Creative Counters” to Expressions of Resistance

Karp deals with a micro-level phenomenon: specific statements made in response to suggestions for change and that may be a surface manifestation of resistance. He identifies specific verbal replies to these statements that he argues constitute “creative counters” to the statements of resistance (see Table 6.9).56

TABLE 6.9 Expressions of Resistance and Management Responses

Expression 1: “I don’t want to.” (aka “the block”)
Comment: This is a direct/authentic response; relatively unambiguous and therefore most straightforward to handle.
Response/Counter: “Why?”/”What’s your concern?”
Expression 2: “Tell me exactly what you want me to do.” (aka “the rollover”)
Comment: This response is ambiguous as it may be a genuine request for more specific information, but it also may be a form of passive resistance (i.e., the subtext may be “If you do not communicate absolutely clearly and precisely what you want me to do, I cannot be held accountable for what may or may not be done.”
Response/Counter: “In what respects are you unclear as to what you are being asked to do?”
Expression 3: “I’ll get on it first thing next week.” (aka “the stall”)
Comment: It may be that this is a response to a genuine lack of awareness of the urgency of action but it also may be an indication of a desire to avoid complying.
Response/Counter: “Is there anything of a serious nature that would prevent you from starting tomorrow?”
Expression 4: “Wow, what a great deal!” (aka “the reverse”)
Comment: While it may be a genuine comment, it is also something that a resistor may say; that is, telling you what you want to hear to “get you off her back” and with no intention of actually doing anything supportive of the change.
Response/Counter: “I am really pleased that you feel this way. What exactly can I count on you to deliver and by when?”
Expression 5: “I think that the change would be better if it were first implemented in X’s division/department.” (aka “the sidestep”)
Comment: There may be some truth in such a comment, but it is also a ploy that a resistor may use to shift the pressure to change to someone/anyone else in the organization.
Response/Counter: “I appreciate your concern and I do have plans for X. What I specifically want you to do is …”
Expression 6: “X isn’t going to like this.” (aka “the projected threat”)
Comment: The resistance involves an implied threat that someone important—probably someone senior to you—will not be happy with the proposed change.
Response/Counter: Either (if true) “X has been part of the change process and is fully supportive” or “I’ll be talking to X about the change. But what I’m most interested in at the moment is what your views are.”
Expression 7: “You owe me one.” (aka “the press”)
Comment: This involves asking to be exempt from having to change as reciprocity for some previous favor done.
Response/Counter: “I haven’t forgotten that I owe you one, but I need your support right now on this change.”
Expression 8: “See what you’re making me do.” (aka “the guilt trip”)
Comment: The resistor is attempting to deflect attention from his or her reactions by changing the focus of the discussion to the actions of the manager.
Response/Counter: “I’m sorry that there is a problem for you—and we can talk about what we might be able to do to help—but we’ve given the matter a lot of thought and it is important for the organization that the change go ahead.”
Expression 9: “But we’ve always done it the other way.” (aka “the tradition”)
Comment: New ways are not always better ways. However, if traditional ways are maintained, it should be because they are still the best ways, not just because they are how things have always been done in the past. Unfortunately, the attraction of established ways is sometimes (often?) because they are “safe,” that is, less threatening than the unknown new ways.
Response/Counter: “The other way has served us well for a long time, but it was designed for a situation that has now changed.” or “What could we do to make sure that the new way incorporates the best of our traditional approach?”

Source: Adapted from Karp, 1996:120–22.

Thought Self-Leadership

Thought self-leadership (TSL) is “a process of influencing or leading through the purposeful control of one’s thoughts.”57 This approach to the management of change is based on a series of linked propositions and the application of associated techniques. These propositions are:58

1. People’s perceptions are a primary determinant of how they respond to change.

2. TSL can influence these perceptions through the use of the three processes: beliefs and assumptionsself-talk, and mental imagery.

b. Some of the problems that individuals encounter result from dysfunctional thinking. Individuals are able to identify thebeliefs and assumptions that constrain their ability to view change positively and replace them with ones that make them more positive.

b. What we covertly tell ourselves (self-talk) corresponds to emotional states that in turn affect cognitions and behavior. Individuals who become aware of their “self-defeating internal verbalizations” and who are able to reformulate these in a positive manner are able to develop more positive perceptions of change.59

b. Mental imagery refers to the imagining of the performance of a task before it is undertaken. Mental visualization of the successful accomplishment of a task can enhance an individual’s perception that the task be successfully undertaken.

1. Together, these three processes contribute to the creation of habitual ways of thinking (aka thought patterns). Thought patterns that are likely to impact a person’s response to change include “opportunity thinking” and “obstacle thinking.”60Opportunity thinking involves framing a new situation positively; that is, as an opportunity to learn new things and expand one’s capabilities and experiences. On the other hand, obstacle thinking involves framing the same situation negatively, that is, as a threat. Individuals who perceive challenging situations (such as change) as opportunities make more effort to deal constructively with the challenges that they present, whereas those who focus on the threat aspect are more likely to resist the change.

Neck and Manz report the results of a training program in which employees of America West Airlines received instruction on the application of techniques in regard to beliefs and assumptions, self-talk, mental imagery, and thought patterns. To this was added a final stage involving a process designed to prevent relapse into pre-TSL responses. From this study they conclude that “the effective self-regulation of cognitions can be learned/developed in an organizational setting—e.g., an individual’s pattern of negative thinking can be altered.”61

Thus, TSL focuses attention on the reactions of the recipients of change.62 The strengths in this approach are that (1) it draws attention to the way in which the framing of the situation by the recipients can directly impact on their actions in regard to the change and (2) there are associated techniques that can be used to help people reframe a change situation more positively. However, in light of the many possible bases for resistance to change, it would be unwise for managers to assume that resistance to change is purely an artifact of misconception by the recipients of change.

Tinkering, Kludging, and Pacing

Because Abrahamson places a lot of emphasis on the detrimental effects of change fatigue (see above), his prescription for managing resistance centers on dealing with this phenomenon. He argues that in order to change successfully, organizations should make use of processes that he labels tinkering and kludging.

Both processes involve “the reconfiguration of existing practices and business models rather than the creation of new ones.”63The difference between tinkering and kludging is a matter of scale, with tinkering being the more modest. As an example oftinkering, Abrahamson cites a company that produced military helicopters that was under intense market pressure to improve its development and production processes. Employees were burnt out and cynical due to the company’s history of failed large-scale change initiatives. However, by adapting a very good product development model from the company’s software division and making use of the mass-production expertise of employees who had previously worked in the automobile industry, resistance was minimal and a successful change to the helicopter development and production process was achieved.

Kludging is tinkering on a larger scale, such as where the leveraging of existing capabilities results in the development of a new business or division. Abrahamson cites the example of Barnes and Noble developing its Internet business based on its already-existing brand and its capabilities in areas such as procurement and inventory management. As with tinkering, it is presented by Abrahamson as much less likely to induce change fatigue and resistance. Pacing refers to the ability to mix major change initiatives, the ones most likely to be destabilizing and disruptive, with tinkering and kludging (see Table 6.10).

TABLE 6.10 The Value of Pacing

One business leader who understands the value of pacing is Lou Gerstner. At IBM and, before that, at American Express Travel Related Services (TRS) and RJR Nabisco, his initial impact was pure creative destruction. In his first nine months at TRS, for example, Gerstner launched a massive reorganization of the card and traveler’s check businesses, which was accompanied by a widespread shift of managers across those units. A rash of new product introductions followed quickly….But Gerstner had a genius for knowing when it was time to rest. He was alert to early signs of change fatigue: cynicism and burnout. He recognized that the success of the overall change campaign depended on the stability of the units involved and he was very thoughtful about how and when to intersperse the small changes among the big. At TRS, no new products were launched and no new executives were brought in from the outside for 18months after Gerstner’s initial blitz. But he didn’t sit back and do nothing. He tinkered constantly to prevent the company from drifting into inertia; he played with the structure, with the compensation system, with TRS product offerings. But the unthreatening nature of the interim changes allowed the company to better absorb a second wave of product launches and restructurings when it came.

Source: Abrahamson, 2000:77–78.

The “Power of Resistance”

Rather than treating resistance to change as something that must be overcome, Maurer argues for an approach that uses the power of resistance to build support for change.” This approach is based on the view that showing respect toward resistors builds stronger relationships and thereby improves the prospects of success of the change.64 He identifies five “fundamental touchstones”:65

1. Maintain clear focus. Keep focused on the objective; persevere and don’t be diverted or demotivated if the immediate reaction of others is to resist.

2. Embrace resistance. Find out more about the resistance. Who are the resistors? What is the basis for their resistance? Recognize that there may be a further level of reason below the stated reasons.

3. Respect those who resist. Assume that those who are resistant to your initiative are doing so in good faith (even if you believe them to be misguided). Treat them, and their views, with respect.

4. Relax. Resist the temptation to “push back” if attacked. Tension limits your ability to keep the broader picture in mind. Listening will enable you to learn more about their hopes and fears and the actions that they might take.

5. Join with the resistance. Listen for points of commonality (e.g., fears, interests) to establish some common ground.

Jick and Peiperl take a similar position, arguing that managers should “rethink resistance” by recognizing it as a natural part of the adaptation to change process, a form of energy that may be able to be tapped and a form of feedback about the change process.66 However, for these potential benefits to be gained, the resistance needs to be active. In some instances, passive resistance may take the form of silence, that is, the withholding of feedback/information.67

As noted earlier in this chapter, attributing problems in the change process to “resistance” has the potential to cause managers to direct insufficient attention to the extent to which the quality of their own management practices is contributing to the problems.

Although Maurer espouses the approach (above) as one to apply in most situations, he also acknowledges that there are likely to be times when it is not appropriate and when focusing a lot of attention on dissenters can be counterproductive:

Sometimes it is best just to let resistance be. Woody Allen spoke of ruining his stand-up comedy by focusing on people who heckled him. By doing so, he lost his timing and the laughter of those who thought he was funny.68

Maurer identifies several “default options” for dealing with resistance (see Table 6.11).

TABLE 6.11 Dealing with Resistance: Default Options

Default PositionCharacteristicLimitations
Use power … use of power may be subtle: a gentle reminder that lets people know who the boss is; a joke during a meeting just so that no one forgets who conducts their performance reviews; a recollection of what happened to others who opposed similar initiatives. Or it may be blatant: ranting, raving and striking fear into the hearts of those who dare to go against their wishes.a · Possibly well-founded concerns may be suppressed.· Resistance is pushed underground.· Compliance rather than commitment is received.· There may be a “tit-for-tat” response.
Manipulate those who oppose For example, use selective release of information so that opponents only have “part of the story.”· There may be destruction of trust if “trickery” is revealed, with resulting escalation of resistance.
Apply force of reason Try to overwhelm opponents with “facts.”· This may “close-off” rather than enable needed dialogue.
Ignore resistance Assume that resistance will be ineffective or disappear.· Resistance may not disappear; by being ignored it may escalate.
Play off relationshipsCall on opponents’ sense of obligation to reciprocate support that has been previously provided to them.· The [possibly well-founded] reasons for the original resistance remain unaddressed.· It is unlikely to be effective where concern is deep.
Make deals “If you do this [for me], I’ll do that [for you].”· This does not work if resistance is high.
Kill the messenger Get rid of the people who dare to question the wisdom of the change.· Messengers will quickly learn only to bring “good news,” ultimately destroying the capacity of top management to make informed decisions.
Give in Give up on the initiative before the strength or validity of the resistance has been determined.· This may mean a premature suspension of a necessary initiative.

a Maurer, 1996:36.

Source: Adapted from Maurer, 1996.

EXERCISE 6.3: Responding to Resistance: Assessing Your Personal Style69

Consider a past change in which you were involved that was seriously affected by resistance.

1. When did you first become aware of resistance?

2. What form did the resistance take?

3. What were your first thoughts (e.g., anger, betrayal, confusion, relief)?

4. What made you decide that you had to do something?

5. What actions did you take?

6. What was the impact in the (a) short term and (b) long term?

7. If you could “rewind the tape,” would you do anything differently? If so, what approach would you use?

EXERCISE 6.4: Jack’s Dilemma

Jack White is the newly appointed general manager of the pet food division of Strickland Corporation. He has completed a strategic review that has convinced him that the division needs to undergo substantial change in a number of areas and to do so relatively swiftly given the recent strategic moves of key competitors.

Although he is new, he is familiar enough with the company to know that there will be significant resistance to the changes from a number of quarters. He also suspects that some of this resistance will come from people with the capacity to act in ways that could seriously impede successful change.

Jack reflects on the situation. He believes that it is important to introduce the proposed changes soon, but he also recognizes that if he acts speedily in this regard, he’ll have virtually no time to have a dialogue with staff about the proposed changes, much less involve them in any significant way.

One option is to act speedily and to make it clear that “consequences” will follow for anyone not cooperating. He certainly has the power to act on such a threat. The risk, Jack knows, is that even if no one outright resists, there’s a big difference between not cooperating and acting in a manner that reflects commitment. He knows that he needs the cooperation of key groups of employees and that sometimes “minimum-level compliance” can be as unhelpful as outright resistance when it comes to implementing change. “But maybe I’m exaggerating this problem,” he thinks to himself. “Maybe I should just go ahead with the change. If people don’t like it, they can leave; if they stay, they’ll come around.”

But Jack’s not sure. He reflects on another option: Maybe he should spend more time on building up support at least among key groups of managers and employees, if not more broadly within the organization. “Maybe,” he thinks, “the need to change is not quite as immediate as I think.” “I just know that I’d feel a whole lot better if this consultation could happen quickly.”

Your Task

Jack respects your opinion on business matters and has asked you for your views on his situation. What factors would you suggest to Jack that he take into account in deciding what course of action to take?

EXERCISE 6.5: Ajax Minerals70

Ajax Minerals is a U.S. mining company. Recently, it was operating at full capacity but there were problems on the horizon. Within the next three or four years, Pacific Rim companies will be able to mine and ship the same minerals to the U.S. for less than Ajax can get them out of the ground. The leadership team saw this challenge and wanted to do something immediately. However, no one else in the company saw the threat. Supervisors and hourly workers could only see that work was going on around the clock and that they were earning a lot of overtime pay.

Although the current group of senior managers was fairly well respected, there was a history within Ajax of poorly run changes and even poorer management-labor relations. The latter had got so bad that if management asked for something, workers were immediately suspicious that management was up to something that would have unpleasant outcomes for the workers (e.g., layoffs, paycuts). In light of this, the leadership team was aware that, at the very least, the workers’ reaction to any current initiative was likely to be a resigned “here we go again.” Similarly, they were concerned that the union was likely to view any reference by management to “problems on the horizon” as a ploy to gain concessions during the next contract talks.

Given the history of their relationship, the leadership team expected workers to drag their feet on implementing any new approaches and by so doing undermine the prospects of success. History suggested that both supervisors and workers would do just enough to “get by,” that is, they would provide minimum compliance.

Ajax management responded to the situation by establishing interactive sessions involving both managers and supervisors. They decided that they needed to make a compelling case for change before they began thinking about specific strategies. In the past, they had done the planning before ever getting others involved in any way, and suspected that that had contributed to the subsequent resistance. During the interactive sessions, the general manager and the managers made the case for change. As part of this process they used stories about various companies that had faced similar situations and had suffered badly as a result of their inability to respond to competitive forces. They also, for the first time, adopted an “open-book” approach in which employees were given unprecedented access to data on Ajax’s financial performance, particularly “the numbers that drive the business.” Following on from this, a practice was established whereby workers, supervisors and managers met weekly to share key performance numbers.

In the view of the Ajax management, they are already seeing a new level of cooperation between management and labor and are hopeful that it will help turn around the situation that has applied in the past in terms of management-labor relations.

Your Task:

1. Comment on the Ajax managers’ approach to the situation that they faced. Do you think that it will work long-term? Provide supporting arguments for your view.

2. If you were dealing with the situation that the Ajax managers faced, what approach would you have taken? Provide supporting arguments for your approach.


In this chapter, we have focused on resistance to change. While it is understandably a key concern for those involved in the management of change, it is also important for the manager of change not to ignore the very many reasons that people can have for supporting change.

Resistance to change can be indicated by one or more of a wide range of active and passive signs ranging from willful acts of sabotage through to procrastination. It is also a phenomenon from which managers are not exempt. A wide range of different actions are available to managers as a means of trying to manage the resistance.

Specific implications flow from knowing that in most organizational change situations, there will be those who are resistant to the change. Prior to a proposed change, those managing the process should carry out a “resistance profile” that identifies:

1. The likely resistors and the likely reasons for the resistance.

2. The likely strength of the resistance.

3. The likely manifestations of the resistance.

4. The potential for the resistance to undermine the change initiative.

On the basis of the results of such a profile, managers should be able to identify, ahead of time, the likely situation that they will face and, on that basis, make informed decisions in regard to the actions that need to be taken to manage the resistance.

TABLE 6.12 Chapter Reflections for the Practicing Manager

· What symptoms of resistance to change have you experienced? Have you experienced both active and passive forms? Have you experienced them as a resistor yourself (as a recipient of change)? Have you experienced them as someone responsible for the management of change (as an initiator of change)?· Which of the various reasons for resisting change do you believe to be the most common? What are your “top three” in this regard?· Which of the various reasons for resisting change do you believe to be the most difficult to deal with (as a manager)? What are your “top three” in this regard?· When senior managers resist change at the strategic level, they are in a position to cause more damage than employees resisting changes at the operational level. Have you worked in a company where you believe that management resistance to change may have existed? As a manager yourself, what would you try to do to prevent this happening?· Which approach to the management of resistance attracts you? What is the reason for your choice? For example, is it because you think it to be the most effective or does it also relate to a view that you have about how people should be managed?

Supplemental Reading

Dent, E. B., and Goldberg, S. G. 1999. Challenging “resistance to change.” Journal of Applied Behavioral Science 35:25–41.

Dym, B. 1999. Resistance in organizations: How to recognise, understand & respond to it. OD Practitioner 31(1):6–19.

Ford, J. D., Ford, L. W., and McNamara, R. T. 2001. Resistance and the background conversation of change. Journal of Organizational Change Management 15(2):105–21.

Jick, T. D., and Peiperl, M. A. 2003. The recipients of change. In Managing change: Cases and concepts. 2nd ed., 299–311. New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.

Kotter, J. P., and Schlesinger, L. A. 1979. Choosing strategies for change. Harvard Business Review, March–April:106–14.

Maurer, R. 1996. Beyond the walls of resistance. Austin, TX: Bard Books.

Piderit, S. K. 2000. Rethinking resistance and recognizing ambivalence: A multidimensional view of attitudes toward an organizational change. Academy of Management Review 25:783–94.

Reichers, A. E., Wanous, J. P., and Austin, J. A. 1997. Understanding and managing cynicism about organizational change.Academy of Management Executive 11(1):48–59.

Reger, R. K., Mullane, J. V., Gustafson, L. T., and DeMarie, S. M. 1994. Creating earthquakes to change organizational mindsets. Academy of Management Executive 8(4):31–43.

Strebel, P. 1996. Why do employees resist change? Harvard Business Review, May–June:86–92.

Case Study: Problems at Perrier71

Perrier may well be the iconic brand in the world of mineral waters. However, regardless of the profile of the brand, the company that produces the bottled sparkling mineral water is having a tough time. It is the focus of what one commentator describes as “a vicious struggle underway for the soul of the business.”72

The origins of the Perrier company can be traced to 1898 when a local doctor, Louis-Eugène Perrier, bought the mineral water source near Vergèze, France. The company grew steadily but demand really escalated in the late 1980s when it became highly fashionable and championed by a range of admirers including Wall Street yuppies. At its peak (1989), Perrier sold 1.2 billion bottles (830 million in 2003), almost half to consumers in the United States.

The boom years were good for the Perrier workers. Buoyant profits were associated with regular pay rises, social benefits, and extra holidays. However, in 1990, the finding of a minute trace of benzene in a bottle led to the collapse of U.S. sales.73 By 1992, annual output had halved and the company was close to bankruptcy. At this point it was bought for $2.7 billion by Nestlé, the world’s largest food company. Attracted by the combination of bottled water as a fast-growing business and the world’s best known mineral water brand, Nestlé identified Perrier as an attractive takeover target.

However, Perrier struggles to turn a profit. In 2003 its pretax profit margin on $300 million sales was only 0.6% compared with 10.4% for the Nestlé Waters division overall. In 2004 it again recorded a loss.74

The Perrier factory is on a 234-acre site on the Mediterranean coastal plain near Nimes. The factory itself is rather nondescript, so much so that “from a distance it could be mistaken for a power station or auto plant.”75Perrier employees work a 35-hour week and earn an average annual salary of $32,000 which is good for this part of France and relatively high for this industry. However, the average Perrier worker produces only 600,000 bottles a year, compared with 1.1 million bottles at Nestlé’s two other international French mineral-water brands (Vittel and Contrex).

Relations between management and workers are not good. Almost all (93 percent) of Perrier’s 1,650 workers belong to the CGT, a union that is viewed by the management as consistently resisting Nestlé’s attempts to improve Perrier’s financial performance. According to Nestlé CEO Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, “We have come to the point where the development of the Perrier brand is endangered by the stubbornness of the CGT.”76

Jean-Paul Franc, head of the CGT at Perrier, sees the situation differently. In regard to the company’s plan to cut 15 percent of its workforce he protests, “Nestlé can’t do whatever it likes.” He says, “There are men and women who work here… Morally speaking the water and the gas stored below this ground belong to the whole region.”77

When, in 2004, Danone launched a new product (Badoit Rouge) that was designed to directly compete with Perrier’s new super-bubbly brand, Eau de Perrier, Perrier’s management put bottles of Badoit Rouge in the factory cafeteria. This had been done to emphasize the point to Perrier employees that they were involved in a head-to-head battle for that niche in the market. However, this act was not well received.

“It was a provocation,” recalls one Perrier truck driver. “We took the bottles and dumped them in front of the factory director’s door, so he couldn’t get into his office.”78


1. Identify the key elements of the resistance to change described in this situation.

2. Construct a change management strategy for dealing with this situation. In so doing, identify what approach(es) to managing resistance you recommend and provide a clear justification for your choice.

TABLE 6.13 Additional Case Studies

Triangle Community Foundation Dees, J. G., & Anderson, B. (2001) Stanford University
Ballarpur Industries Limited (A) & (B) (Video & Case)Killing, P. (2003) IMD Lausanne
Taking Charge at Dogus Holding (A) Khurana, R.; Carioggia, G. M., & Simon, J. (2001) Harvard Business School
Taking Charge at Dogus Holding (B) Khurana, R., & Carioggia, G. M. (2002) Harvard Business School— Supports (A)
Donna Dubinsky and Apple Computer, Inc (A) Gentile, M., under direction of Jick, T. (1986) Harvard Business School


Abrahamson E. 2000 . Change without pain. Harvard Business Review, July–August:75–79.

Adams S. 1996 . The Dilbert principle. New York : Harper Collins .

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Audia P. G., Locke E. A., and Smith K. S. 2000 . The paradox of success: An archival and a laboratory study of strategic persistence following radical environmental change. Academy of Management Journal 43:837–53.

Bartunek J. M. 1984 . Changing interpretive schemes and organizational restructuring: The example of a religious order.Administrative Science Quarterly 23(3):355–72.

Buchanan D. A., Claydon T., and Doyle M. 1999 . Organization development and change: The legacy of the nineties. Human Resource Management Journal 9(2):20–37.

Clinard M. B. 1983 . Corporate ethics and crime: The role of middle management. Beverley Hills, CA : Sage .

Coombs A. 1990 . Adland: A true story of corporate drama. Melbourne : Heinemann .

Deal T. E., and Kennedy A. A. 1992 . Corporate cultures. Reading, MA : Addison-Wesley .

Dent E. B., and Goldberg S. G. 1999 . Challenging “resistance to change.” Journal of Applied Behavioral Science 35:25–41.

Dent E. B., and Goldberg S. G. 1999 . “Resistance to change”: A limiting perspective. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science35:45–47.

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1. Maurer, 1996:17.

2. Foote, 2001.

3. Geisler, 2001.

4. See, for example, Adams, 1996.

5. Stensaker et al., 2002:305.

6. Kirkpatrick, 2001.

7. Hultman, 1995.

8. Maurer, 1996, refers to “malicious compliance”; Fisher, 1995, refers to “vicious compliance” (a term she attributes to Michael Hammer).

9. Dym, 1999:12.

10. Deal and Kennedy, 1982.

11. Reger et al., 1994.

12. Reger et al., 1994:33–34. Reproduced with permission of Academy of Management Executive through Copyright Clearance Center.

13. Reger et al., 1994.

14. Reger et al., 1994:34.

15. Greenwood and Hinings, 1996:1027.

16. Robinson and Rousseau, 1994; Rousseau, 1995.

17. Strebel, 1996.

18. See also Pate, Martin, and Staines, 2000.

19. Kirkpatrick, 2001; Ford et al., 2001.

20. Gadiesh and Gilbert, 2001:74.

21. Gadiesh and Gilbert, 2001:74.

22. Maurer, 1996:21.

23. Maurer, 1996.

24. Stensaker et al., 2002.

25. Buchanan et al., 1999; Doyle et al., 2000; Marks and Shaw, 1995.

26. Maurer, 1996:94.

27. Abrahamson, 2000:76.

28. Piderit, 2000:785.

29. Milgram, 1965; Modigliani and Rochat, 1995.

30. Piderit, 2000, citing Clinard, 1983.

31. Bartunek, 1984; Geigle, 1998; Gioia and Chipeddi, 1991; Reichers et al., 1997.

32. Geigle (1998). Ford et al. (2001) make a similar argument using the concept of “conversation” rather than “script.”

33. Reichers et al., 1997.

34. Stensaker et al., 2002:304.

35. Dent and Goldberg, 1999:25.

36. On the basis of this position, Dent and Goldberg (1999:27) refer to resistance to change as “a bankrupt mental model.” We do not subscribe to as extreme a position. We take the view that, given the entrenched nature of the concept “resistance to change,” more is to be gained by encouraging a much more critical (and, as a result, a more realistic and useful) approach to the use of the term.

37. Dent and Goldberg, 1999:38.

38. Kahn, 1982:416.

39. Piderit, 2000.

40. Piderit, 2000.

41. Hultman, 1995; Kirkpatrick, 2001.

42. The idea that managers, not just other employees, resist change is also a well-established perspective of those who see themselves as advocating change on behalf of “the powerless and disadvantaged” (see, e.g., Agocs, 1997:16).

43. Drucker, 1994; Pickens and Dess, 1998; Gadiesh and Gilbert, 2001; Jackson and Dutton,1988.

44. Tichy and Devanna, 1990.

45. Sull, 1999; Audia et al., 2000.

46. Audia et al., 2000. Because of this phenomenon, a number of high-profile commentators on strategic change, including Gary Hamel (1997) and Kathleen Eisenhardt (1997), argue strongly for heterogeneous, top-management teams so that there would be a greater “diversity of voices” in the “strategy conversations” within organizations.

47. Miller, 1990.

48. Sull, 1999.

49. Kotter and Schlesinger, 1979.

50. Kotter and Schlesinger, 1979:112.

51. Jick and Peiperl, 2003.

52. Scott and Jaffe, 1989.

53. Scott and Jaffe, 1989.

54. Jick and Peiperl (2003:301) argue that “to speed up the process is to risk carrying unfinished psychological ‘baggage’ from one phase to the next.”

55. Scott and Jaffe, 1989. Jick and Peiperl (2003) similarly argue that some people may get stuck in the cycle and not move through to acceptance.

56. Karp, 1996; see also Manz and Neck, 1991.

57. Neck, 1996:204.

58. Neck, 1996.

59. Neck, 1996:205.

60. Neck, 1996.

61. Neck and Manz, 1996:460.

62. Abrahamson, 2000.

63. Abrahamson, 2000:76.

64. See also Dym, 1999; Waddell and Sohal, 1998.

65. Maurer, 1996.

66. Jick and Peiperl, 2003:306.

67. Morrison and Milliken, 2000.

68. Maurer, 1996:64.

69. Adapted from Maurer, 1996.

70. This case is provided by Rick Maurer. Ajax is a pseudonym.

71. This case is based on Tomlinson, R. (2004) “Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble,” Fortune, November 29, 65–67.

72. Tomlinson (2004:65).

73. Eating or drinking foods containing high levels of the chemical benzene can cause a range of symptoms including vomiting, dizziness, convulsions and in some instances, death.

74. Although this loss is significant for Perrier, it is much less so for Nestlé as a whole as the Perrier brand contributes less than 0.5% of Nestlé total revenue.

75. Tomlinson (2004:66).

76. Tomlinson (2004: 65–66).

77. Tomlinson (2004:66).

78. Tomlinson (2004:65).


1 Maurer, 1996:17.

2 Foote, 2001.

3 Geisler, 2001.

4 See, for example, Adams, 1996.

5 Stensaker et al., 2002:305.

6 Kirkpatrick, 2001.

7 Hultman, 1995.

8 Maurer, 1996, refers to “malicious compliance”; Fisher, 1995, refers to “vicious compliance” (a term she attributes to Michael Hammer).

9 Dym, 1999:12.

10 Deal and Kennedy, 1982.

11 Reger et al., 1994.

12 Reger et al., 1994:33–34. Reproduced with permission of Academy of Management Executive through Copyright Clearance Center.

13 Reger et al., 1994.

14 Reger et al., 1994:34.

15 Greenwood and Hinings, 1996:1027.

16 Robinson and Rousseau, 1994; Rousseau, 1995.

17 Strebel, 1996.

18 See also Pate, Martin, and Staines, 2000.

19 Kirkpatrick, 2001; Ford et al., 2001.

20 Gadiesh and Gilbert, 2001:74.

21 Gadiesh and Gilbert, 2001:74.

22 Maurer, 1996:21.

23 Maurer, 1996.

24 Stensaker et al., 2002.

25 Buchanan et al., 1999; Doyle et al., 2000; Marks and Shaw, 1995.

26 Maurer, 1996:94.

27 Abrahamson, 2000:76.

28 Piderit, 2000:785.

29 Milgram, 1965; Modigliani and Rochat, 1995.

30 Piderit, 2000, citing Clinard, 1983.

31 Bartunek, 1984; Geigle, 1998; Gioia and Chipeddi, 1991; Reichers et al., 1997.

32 Geigle (1998). Ford et al. (2001) make a similar argument using the concept of “conversation” rather than “script.”

33 Reichers et al., 1997.

34 Stensaker et al., 2002:304.

35 Dent and Goldberg, 1999:25.

36 On the basis of this position, Dent and Goldberg (1999:27) refer to resistance to change as “a bankrupt mental model.” We do not subscribe to as extreme a position. We take the view that, given the entrenched nature of the concept “resistance to change,” more is to be gained by encouraging a much more critical (and, as a result, a more realistic and useful) approach to the use of the term.

37 Dent and Goldberg, 1999:38.

38 Kahn, 1982:416.

39 Piderit, 2000.

40 Piderit, 2000.

41 Hultman, 1995; Kirkpatrick, 2001.

42 The idea that managers, not just other employees, resist change is also a well-established perspective of those who see themselves as advocating change on behalf of “the powerless and disadvantaged” (see, e.g., Agocs, 1997:16).

43 Drucker, 1994; Pickens and Dess, 1998; Gadiesh and Gilbert, 2001; Jackson and Dutton,1988.

44 Tichy and Devanna, 1990.

45 Sull, 1999; Audia et al., 2000.

46 Audia et al., 2000. Because of this phenomenon, a number of high-profile commentators on strategic change, including Gary Hamel (1997) and Kathleen Eisenhardt (1997), argue strongly for heterogeneous, top-management teams so that there would be a greater “diversity of voices” in the “strategy conversations” within organizations.

47 Miller, 1990.

48 Sull, 1999.

49 Kotter and Schlesinger, 1979.

50 Kotter and Schlesinger, 1979:112.

51 Jick and Peiperl, 2003.

52 Scott and Jaffe, 1989.

53 Scott and Jaffe, 1989.

54 Jick and Peiperl (2003:301) argue that “to speed up the process is to risk carrying unfinished psychological ‘baggage’ from one phase to the next.”

55 Scott and Jaffe, 1989. Jick and Peiperl (2003) similarly argue that some people may get stuck in the cycle and not move through to acceptance.

56 Karp, 1996; see also Manz and Neck, 1991.

57 Neck, 1996:204.

58 Neck, 1996.

59 Neck, 1996:205.

60 Neck, 1996.

61 Neck and Manz, 1996:460.

62 Abrahamson, 2000.

63 Abrahamson, 2000:76.

64 See also Dym, 1999; Waddell and Sohal, 1998.

65 Maurer, 1996.

66 Jick and Peiperl, 2003:306.

67 Morrison and Milliken, 2000.

68 Maurer, 1996:64.

69 Adapted from Maurer, 1996.

70 This case is provided by Rick Maurer. Ajax is a pseudonym.

71 This case is based on Tomlinson, R. (2004) “Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble,” Fortune, November 29, 65–67.

72 Tomlinson (2004:65).

73 Eating or drinking foods containing high levels of the chemical benzene can cause a range of symptoms including vomiting, dizziness, convulsions and in some instances, death.

74 Although this loss is significant for Perrier, it is much less so for Nestlé as a whole as the Perrier brand contributes less than 0.5% of Nestlé total revenue.

75 Tomlinson (2004:66).

76 Tomlinson (2004: 65–66).

77 Tomlinson (2004:66).

78 Tomlinson (2004:65).

Managing Organizational Change: A Multiple Perspectives Approach, 1e

Resistance to Change

ISBN: 0072496800 Authors: Ian Palmer, Richard Dunford, Gib Akin

Copyright © The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. (2006)

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