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Overcoming resistance to change

  1. Jul 28, 2004 #1

    Moonbear

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    Our department is in the process of undergoing some restructuring. It seems no matter what solution is suggested, a certain group of people consistently resist any sort of change whatsoever. It's as if their identity is attached to a certain departmental structure or name or leadership the way they are so objectionable to any change, even when making no changes is clearly leading the department down the drain. This happened the last place I worked, too. Administration told the department to make some new changes, the members of the department refused to change, fought tooth and nail against it, and the result was administration dissolved the department and forced everyone to seek new homes.

    So, I'm sure this is something psychologists and sociologists must have studied extensively, especially in corporate settings where it's not uncommon for companies to undergo reorganization and people get shuffled around to different departments.

    Here are a few questions I have about this:
    Why are people so resistant to such changes, even when their job is not in any way jeopardized by the change, but could be if things don't change?

    Are there ways to persuade them to see the benefits of and accept the change?

    Is there anything that can be done when hiring/training new people (in this case, I'm thinking particularly of graduate student training, but could be something done when hiring new faculty too...formal or informal training) that would lead them to be more open to such changes when they encounter them later?

    Or, is it just a matter of experience? I've never been in a department that wasn't undergoing changes while I was there, so I'm pretty comfortable with the idea (as an undergrad, my college completely revised the core curriculum mid-way, and the department for my major underwent major restructuring in terms of location, organization, areas of focus, classes taught, etc.; as a grad student, the dept chair left shortly after I arrived and we had a series of interim chairs, and a new chair was finally successfully recruited only after I graduated; my post-doc was in that program that was dissolved; and now I'm in a dept that's again undergoing changes...maybe I'm just a jinx :eek: ) Does that make it easier for me to see the benefits of making the changes because I've lived through the consequences of resisting change as well as survived previous changes, so know it's not going to affect me in any way other than the name of the dept on my business card? Would somebody who has always had stable leadership be more resistant because there is more uncertainty about the process for them? If so, how can someone like me help them through that process?

    Anyway, if anyone knows of good studies on this, sources of constructive approaches to dealing with it, or even anecdotal reports of what has or hasn't worked for you, I'd like to hear it.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 29, 2004 #2
    Personally, I'm not expert.. actually I know nothing about this (it is interesting), but none the less my opinion is that discussion would help. I think people fear change because it’s an unknown. Things may be ok, or even good, now but if you change things they may become not ok. People may just be uncomfortable with change because they can't calculate all the implications of it. But if the changes are good and that can be explained to them, along with discussion about it and some time to think it over, I would think that would have to at least be a big help. These people may also just be looking for an excuse to be angry with management.. the ones making their decisions and telling em what to do =P

    I've never actually been in the situation you describe, but I agree that it seems a certain percentage of people simply don't like and resist change without having any real reasons. Slow transitions always help, people are usually more comfortable with that. Hopefully like you said someone who has studied this will post. Resisting change definitely seems like a significant trait in people.

    You could also try telling them that they owe their existence to change, and that change is good. Actually, that won't help, but tell em anyways :)
     
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2004
  4. Jul 29, 2004 #3

    Moonbear

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    Thanks for your thoughts Mazuz. I agree that with some changes, when things seems okay, it's hard to get people to sometimes see that the change can make it better. What has me baffled in this situation is that things currently are NOT okay. If nothing is done, it is clear things will only get worse, this seems to be recognized by these same people, but then any and every suggestion is met with nay saying...and it's not like they have any suggestions to offer of their own that they just think they have a better idea we're not listening to or adopting.

    Hmm, but maybe the part about using it as an excuse to be angry with management is the key. In this case, we have a dept chair who has been mismanaging things, and he's the one who presented this idea, as if it was his own (it wasn't, I know where it originated, but of course being who he is, he claimed credit). So, maybe it's a reaction to the person who presented the idea rather than to the idea itself?

    I'm sure in other situations the reaction can probably be even worse. Since I work in a university and our department is full of scientists, I would think they'd be more open to change (always seeking innovation and new discoveries) than the general population, yet we still run headlong into these same issues.

    So, yes, I'm hoping someone truly knowledgeable in this will have some insight to share...even if it's too late in this situation (maybe the damage has already been done), I'd like to know how to avoid this in the future. It's my career aspiration to one day take on an administrative position, so everything I can learn about leadership, management, etc, I try to soak up. I also think it's something that is often missing from graduate student/post-doc training, and I'd like to see some professional development beyond just the science incorporated into their formal training. So these are the types of things I like to know more about.

    In the meantime, I agree, just discussing it can also lead to some helpful perspectives. Already you've given me one more idea to chew on...that it might be resistance to the person recommending the change and not the change itself.


    ____

    BTW...I'm heading out of town for a conference for about a week (leaving Saturday), so if I don't respond promptly to any replies for the next week, don't think I've abandoned the topic :-)
     
  5. Jul 30, 2004 #4
    Moonbear --- I'm not juiced enough to go looking for supporting info on the Net right now --- maybe tomorrow --- but I have read in a number of sources that personality, including risk taking, is highly heritable --

    We are what we are :)
     
  6. Jul 30, 2004 #5
    Well "we are what we are" with in "reason" ----- we, has thinking humans, can rise above our animal parts.
     
  7. Jul 30, 2004 #6

    Moonbear

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    I'd like to see those studies when you have time to find them. I would have thought risk taking would more likely be a learned behavior. On the other hand, things like anxiety or sensitivity to stressors, IIRC, is more likely to be acquired from in utero exposure to maternal stress hormones (that's one interested confound in heritability studies...there's a growing body of literature that many things that occur during development in utero can lead to fairly permanent changes in the brain, so it's neither learned nor inherited, but acquired through the uterine environment)...so, in the case of anxiety, if the mother is very anxious during pregnancy, she's likely to pass it on to her offspring, not through genetics, but through exposure to her stress hormones.

    Anyway, that gets somewhat off the topic at-hand. Whether it's heritability or intrauterine environment, if this is something people are born with, are there ways to help them overcome it or compensate for it? For example, my friends with children are always sharing the latest thing they've read about parenting, and one thing that they've mentioned is that while every kid is born with their own personality, you can shape their reactions by the way you respond to them. For example, my one friend doesn't get upset when her daughter take a tumble (she's just learning to walk), she just laughs and says something like "nice try, wanna try again?" I've seen her daughter fall down and she might sit for a moment a little stunned, but then gets right back to trying to walk again with little crying or fussing. Other friends immediately scoop up their child and fuss over the imagined boo-boo (there's no boo-boo...diapers are padded, baby bottoms are padded, they don't get hurt unless they fall into something with an edge to it). You guessed it, those kids launch into a full blown wail everytime they fall down. Of course this is pretty much an N=2. I'm not around that many babies full-time to see how others handled these situations.

    So, since I'm dealing with adults, if people are born with certain predispositions for or against risk-taking, or their parents have shaped that behavior their entire life, how can that be dealt with in the adult world? Are these people who need a LONG list of pros and cons to see that the change isn't a risk, in this case, staying the course is the risky direction? I'm not sure if it's all about risk. In the example starting this thread, it seems from my perspective that these people are so opposed to change that they are willing to risk disaster to avoid that change.

    I really can't write much more today (I'm leaving tomorrow for a conference and need to get a lot more done today), but I'll try to remember to provide more specific references about the intrauterine environment affecting adult behaviors...I actually know a few people will be presenting on that very topic at the conference I'll be attending, so can report back with the latest work in that area.
     
  8. Aug 3, 2004 #7
    A widely used method of "erradicating" these protests is to single out the people behind them.

    What we tend to see in a lot of these situations where an entire departement appears to object to the change, that the majority doesn't object out of their own ideas on the change.
    It a form of subconsious loyalty.
    In a lot of cases the "ring-leaders" can be picked out (there are actually companies that do this for companies).
    They get transferred, send on early retirement, or just simply laid off.
    If this is done in a good manner, objections will persist but people will comply to the changes at hand.
     
  9. Aug 4, 2004 #8

    arildno

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    Alternatively, there exist rational persons refusing to go along with a specific, idiotic proposal for change.

    Note that the idea of "change is always for the good" is naive, apart from being wrong.
    A given proposal of change is not always engendered to meet the requirements of the future(and if it is, it might simply fail to accomplish its ends).
    A proposal is forwarded, more often than not, as a result of that the subgroup clamoring for the change wants to improve their relative status within the company (by giving a semblance of creativity, effectiveness, and perceptiveness).
    There is, of course, nothing wrong in trying to improve your own situation; however, we cannot, in general, regard those pushing for change as the best asset of a company (it depends on the particulars of the company and the proposals)

    Weeding out "ring-leaders" opposed to change is often just a nasty bit of personale politics, with no basis in objective realities/performances.
     
  10. Aug 5, 2004 #9

    Moonbear

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    Marijn, the objectors in this case seem to be in the minority, so it's not that they've poisoned the well or anything, but I think it's also important to make sure that doesn't happen either. They are tenured faculty, so early retirements, lay-offs or transfers aren't an option. I don't think that's necessarily a good option anyway.

    On the other hand, arildno's concern that they are rational people refusing to go along with an idiotic proposal isn't founded in this case either (yes, those cases exist, but this isn't one of them). In this case, we need to make a change because the status quo isn't working. Now, I don't know there is necessarily one right change to make, but the people objecting aren't offering up any alternatives. If they just thought this particular change was in error or that it should be done a little differently, that would be reasonable, especially if they offered an alternative. But, these people seem mostly interested in just staying with what we have, which is very broken. This plan actually does include a future focus that our dean has spelled out pretty clearly, that this is the first step toward creating two new departments, each of which fits better within the two main areas of research the university is trying to build up. It just seems to make good long-term sense to do that, we just have to go through a lengthy process to create new departments, so the current restructuring is a prelude to that because it doesn't require the same levels of approval and accreditation.

    Anyway, for the sake of this discussion, lets limit the topic, if possible, to those changes that are for the better, not those that people are resisting because they truly are idiotic. I'm more interested in the behaviors of people who resist every suggestion of change before even listening to the merits...you know, those who hear the word "change" and make up their mind to be against it before they even know what is proposed.
     
  11. Aug 5, 2004 #10

    arildno

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    Ok, moonbear.
    By providing particulars of your situation, it certainly seems that the rational folks in this case is on the "side of change".

    Personally, I would think that in this case, the flip-side of the dynamics I described might be of relevance:

    A person might become too concerned with maintaining the status he/she already has gained (and thus, in general, opposing whatever change that conceivably damage that status); in particular, I would think this comes into play when a person is not altogether certain that he deserves the position he has come into (doubting his of own competence/experiencing a lack of competence).
     
  12. Aug 6, 2004 #11

    Moonbear

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    Aha! Arildno, I think you're onto something here. Now, some people are resisting for the sake of resisting, and I don't think they are any better or worse off as an individual with the change, but there are a few of those who, as individuals, may be worried they won't fare as well under new "leadership" if you will. I think they've gotten away with a lot in the past, and now are likely to be held more accountable. On the other hand, they may actually find that through this reorganization, they will have stronger leadership who will actually help guide them along through their individual limitations. I had a good deal of time over the past week to talk with the person who will be director of one of our new divisions (we were staying at the same hotel for the conference I just attended), and at least his own view is that some of these people who are struggling just need some better guidance, and have been left floundering too long. So, what I think needs to be conveyed to these people is that they aren't going to be left high and dry when new leadership takes over, if anything, they will be given more guidance than they've been getting all along.

    So, I think this explains some of the specifics in this particular case...who is resisting and why. However, my original interest in the question was more general, more of how does one prevent this in the first place, not just how to deal with it after the fact. Is that generally the case, the reason someone resists change is because they are threatened in some way by that change, either because they see the idiocy of it or realize they will suddenly be held to higher standards they are afraid they can't meet? Is there a way to alleviate those fears right from the start?

    One of my real interests is in improving my training of grad students to incorporate the things that often get ignored that are important for career success beyond research and teaching alone. So, is there something I can do while training them that will make them more likely to embrace changes and to identify where the benefits are and how to adapt to them rather than to become paralyzed with fear? Or is this something so ingrained into people's personalities, that there is nothing that can be done except provide the reassurance later when something does need to change that it will all be okay?

    Anyway, arildno, I like your idea regarding this specific case. I think I'll see if I can suggest to the right people what reassurances a few specific people may need to accept this and make our progress as a department something everyone will embrace.
     
  13. Aug 6, 2004 #12

    plover

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    If someone perceives that the current set-up solves some problem that is not--or does not appear to be--addressed by the changes, and which has troubled them in other contexts, this might contribute to resistance. This circumstance may not even be the result of a concious perception, and so, especially if the specific issue has not been addressed in the planned change and the planners are unaware of it as an issue, the trouble may give a greater perception of being "resisting for the sake of resisting" than might actually be the case.
     
  14. Aug 6, 2004 #13

    Nereid

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    AFAIK, in the business world there's a cottage industry in 'change management'. There are a few real pearls among the volumes of books on the topic (unfortunately I don't have any to recommend to you, sorry). It somewhat depends on your own predisposition - do you find a 'cookbook' approach easier to internalise? or one replete with references to peer-reviewed journals?

    Some quick thoughts (yes, poorly organised):
    - DABDA; the cycle may be kicked off for some people, and may be quite strong. There are ways to address this cycle of changes, they may help.
    - control; there's nothing worse than being in a situation where you feel you have no control. Even if there's really no choice about the path forward, approaching the change by explaining the situation, asking for opinions and suggestions, giving choices (to the extent they're possible), etc can help a lot. It's certainly tricky; it's so easy for it to degenerate into a deeply cynical exercise.
    - if you feel that change will be a regular guest in your department, you may want to consider psych testing candidates, and considering whether you can afford those who show strong tendencies to be unsettled by change.
    - it may be that your colleagues are highly articulate, apparently rational people; in fact, they are likely to be just like everyone else - with irrational fears, jealosies, ambitions, etc. Because they may be so intellectual, it may be hard for you to see the normal emotional side (some may even be unaware of it in themselves). Addressing the emotions may be more effective than well reasoned, highly rational reasons why it's 'just gotta be this way'.
     
  15. Aug 7, 2004 #14

    Moonbear

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    Nereid, if I were interested in getting ahold of some of those books you mentioned, what category would they be listed under?
     
  16. Aug 9, 2004 #15

    Nereid

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    Hi Moonbear, sorry to take so long to reply (busy with bobf and BV :wink: )

    This site looks like a good place to start. I found it by googling on "change management business" I'm not personally familiar with the top 10 titles, and I do know that there's an awful lot of drivel in business publications. However, I think you'll quickly find ways to skim and select those of some relevance to you.

    Sorry I can't be of more help.
     
  17. Aug 9, 2004 #16
    Busy with Bobf? You didn't even answer any of my questions or have a discussion with me. Not sure how you were busy with me??
     
  18. Aug 9, 2004 #17

    Evo

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    I'm a bit late coming into this, but this is my 2 cents on people opposing change from what I have observed.

    People that have been in a certain position for awhile usually have obtained a certain level of comfort with their job. They have a routine, they know enough to get by, they are happy with how things are. They usually aren't the type seeking out challenges or trying to improve themselves and the things around them. They are usually not over achievers. They do just enough to get by.

    If you suggest change to these people they are going to object. They are in their comfort zone, they are going through life as easily as possible, although they may never admit it, even to themselves.

    Change means that they may be exposed. People might realize that they are not as capable as they wish them to believe. Or they may be capable, but they don't want to have to put any extra effort forth.

    I see this all of the time. This is why I think change is good.
     
  19. Aug 12, 2004 #18

    Moonbear

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    So, I'm seeing a certain trend among the replies here. The people most resistant to change are those with the most insecurity about their own ability to adapt to that change or about their own ability to perform their current job that might be noticed if they have to report to someone new even if nothing about their job description will change. That makes sense. The other reasons for resistance that have been suggested sound more like they aren't resistance to change, per se, but to the person in the position of authority who is responsible to for the change. So, it seems there are multi-faceted reasons (as is usually the case with human psychology). Some are related to job performance, some to personal insecurities, and others to interpersonal conflicts. So, I guess the role of someone making the changes is to identify which of these reasons is the one affecting any given individual and addressing it directly so as to reduce uncertainty.

    I'm guessing that since nobody has chimed in with a plethora of references to studies on this that we don't have a resident expert in this area on this board. I think I'm going to observe how things continue to progress (or not).

    If the concern of the people who have been resisting change is discomfort with uncertainty, then things are going to get even more fun! The dean who was pushing ahead this reorganization has resigned (apparently irreconcilable differences with the provost). So, right now we don't know if this change is something the provost or a new dean would still want to see move forward, or if entirely new areas will be the center of focus with a change in administration. Well, maybe if it gets too bad, those who are really uncomfortable with this level of uncertainty will just decide to start applying for jobs elsewhere and we'll be left with the group who isn't so easily perturbed.
     
  20. Aug 12, 2004 #19
    Change is more work, why should I be happy to change for a company and do more work so that this change can increase their profits at the expense of my doing more work for the same cost? If a change is genuinely going to increase profits then it seems insulting to ask employees to do more work for the same pay, why not give a bonus along with it of some percentage of the profits expected in the change?
    I suggested something along these lines to a company I worked for in that if they gave out bonuses for quality as well as quantity they could expect a least 50k savings a year, it seemed like a really great idea to me, and they didn't agree that this change was good, not because it wasn't profitable but because I later realized that a certain high percentage of shoddy and minimal stardard work is more profitable in the long run to them and as long as the buyer is uninformed then this is the unspoken rule. Well I think that most employees understand on some level that they can seldom expect to be treated fairly unless they organize and demand it or just happen to work for that rare company. But then this is only one personal and bitter experience.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 12, 2004
  21. Aug 22, 2004 #20

    Moonbear

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    I just wanted to update folks on this topic. I kept all your thoughts in mind while attending a faculty meeting this past week to address the departmental changes. I spent a bit of time really observing behavior, not just the arguments being made...and I have two books on change management on the way (they shipped yesterday, so should have them sometime by the end of the week). One book sounds more like a simpler one with just instructions of how to make change happen based on the author's experiences, and the other sounds like it is more researched with citations to supporting literature.

    Anyway, I think making this change happen with full faculty support is going to be a really tough thing to do. It suddenly makes sense. The dept chair is not in favor of it, he's basically just relaying this information from upper administration and he knows its going to take away a good deal of his control over our dept budget, so he does nothing at meetings to address people's questions/concerns about this reorganization. I tried a few times to provide the answers because I work closely with one of the people who is being appointed as one of the division heads, and the meeting was conveniently scheduled while he was out of town (now I know why), and I've asked a lot of these questions already. Well, the chair essentially cut me off each time I started to provide answers to the questions being raised. It was clear he was not going to let anyone speak who had clear answers that would settle the worries. Those who were being allowed to speak, and who were making arguments against this change would have a lot to lose if our current chair has his control of the budget taken away, because they are the ones benefitting from the mismanagement...I've learned they have been given higher salaries than others at the same rank, and are not being held to the same standards as everyone else in other financial matters. Aha! It's amazing how much of whether people embrace change depends on how the current leadership handles it themselves. I think this meeting could have gone in a completely different direction had the issues raised by the dissenters been addressed head-on, or had those in favor of the reorganization been given equal opportunity to speak at the meeting. Unfortunately, I'm one of the more junior members of the faculty, and I'm not tenured, so while I was sorely tempted to be a little more confrontational, the fact is that I need to stay on this chair's good side until he is no longer my chair so he doesn't suddenly decide to not reappoint me.
     
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