Let’s just face it: Change is hard! And managing change is even tougher. For many organizations that aim to transform, internal resistance to change is their biggest roadblock. Resistance comes in all types and can come from all levels of the organization - from those who are directly to even those who may be indirectly impacted by the change effort. For example, re-structuring of an HR department in a company may not only bring up resistance from within that department, but also from other functions within the company that now have to deal with potentially different people and processes in the HR department. Or in this case, resistance can come from the top level leadership in the organization who may fear that the restructuring could cause too much unnecessary chaos or power shift. Internal resistance can be categorized into two main types:
Overt Resistance: This is often called the more constructive form of resistance and can be beneficial for the change process. Overt resistance can be in the form of openly challenging an announcement or decision, declaring unwillingness to comply with the change etc. Overt resistors may recognize undesirable consequences of the change or problems with its implementation that leaders may have failed to anticipate. Often these resistors, who are motivated by a concern for the success of the change effort, can be an early warning flag. However, the common mistake that many leaders make is annoyance or dismissal of these resistors, rather than providing them an opportunity to constructively share their concerns which may help ensure that the change is implemented successfully.
Covert resistance: This can be dangerous and potentially derail the project. Actions such as complaining about the change quietly, distracting change related meetings with diversionary questions or refusing to productively support change can all be signs of covert resistance. If a valid problem with the program is not raised at the change meeting, then it won’t be addressed. Covert resistance is especially dangerous because it is often hard to identify. If it stems from employees who recognize an issue but do not feel safe raising it, it is a lost opportunity. Overt resistance if left unchecked can become covert and perpetuate harmful rumor mill. The earlier that decision makers hear of and deal with a potential problem, the less impact it will have on the change.
Any type of resistance, if ignored, is dangerous. The longer the change remains in elevated states of resistance, the greater the impact on productivity and operations, and the greater the risk of general resentment and low-motivation among the workforce and even loss of valued employees. Check out Part 2 of this post for tips on identifying and overcoming sources of resistance through P.E.A.C.E.