Organizational Change – 8 Reasons Why People Resist Change

With the rate of technological growth, our Information Age, and the global economy, change is now the normal state of business. Organizational change does not come easy, however. As many as two-thirds of organizational total quality management efforts fail. Senior sponsors of the change often blame its failure on employee and middle manager resistance to change. At times, this is true. More often, however, senior leaders and managers over-estimate how much change they can force on the organization. Some also do not understand how difficult it is to lead and implement change effectively. Leading and implementing change requires people skills!

8 Reasons Why People Resist Change

As I coach managers on their change management efforts, I explain that resistance to change is rarely irrational. Their employees and their peers are resisting their change efforts from a perspective that makes perfect sense to them. In practice, there are 8 common reasons why people resist change:

(1) Loss of status or job security in the organization. It is not our nature to make changes that we view as harmful to our current situation. In an organizational setting, this means employees, peers, and managers will resist administrative and technological changes that result in their role being eliminated or reduced. From their perspective, your change is harmful to their place in the organization! Forcing the change has its place. This approach alone is ineffective however. Managers who overuse this approach will harm their effectiveness over the long term. Without a thoughtful change strategy to address this area, leaders will trigger strong resistance and organizational turnover.

(2) Non-reinforcing reward systems. There is a common business saying that managers get what they reward. Organizational stakeholders will resist change when they do not see any rewards. When working with managers, I will ask them, Where is the reward to employees for implementing your change? Without a reward, there is no motivation to support the change over the long term. This often means that organizational reward systems must be altered to support the change that management wants to implement. The change does not have to always be major or costly.

(3) Surprise and fear of the unknown. The less the organization knows about the change and its impact on them, the more fearful they become. Leading change also requires not springing surprises on the organization! The organization needs to be prepared for the change. In the absence of continuing two-way communication with leadership, grapevine rumors fill the void and sabotage the change effort.

(4) Peer pressure. Whether we are introverted or extroverted, we are still social creatures. Organizational stakeholders will resist change to protect the interests of a group. This could be employees resisting change to protect their co-workers. Managers will resist change to protect their work group.

(5) Climate of mistrust. Meaningful organizational change does not occur in a climate of mistrust. Trust, involves faith in the intentions and behavior of others. Mutual mistrust will doom an otherwise well-conceived change initiative to failure.

(6) Organizational politics. Some resist change as a political strategy to “prove” that the decision is wrong. They may also resist to show that the person leading the change is not up to the task. They are committed to seeing the change effort fail.

(7) Fear of failure. Sweeping changes on the job can cause employees to doubt their capabilities to perform their duties. What is known is comfortable! Employees resist these changes because they are worried that they cannot adapt to new work requirements.

(8) Lack of tact or poor timing. Sometimes it is not what a leader does, but it is how s/he does it that creates resistance to change! Undue resistance can occur because changes are introduced in an insensitive manner or at an awkward time.

For any significant organizational change effort to be effective, organizational leadership must prepare a comprehensive change strategy to address these barriers. Are you responsible for a change management effort and need help in designing your change strategy?

Business Consulting Solutions LLC
Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.

Robert Tanner is President of Business Consulting Solutions LLC, the author of Why Smart People Fail at Management (available at, and an Adjunct Professor of Management. He provides training and development, managerial and organizational assessments, and management coaching services. With over 20 years of management experience, Robert is a seasoned business practitioner. His clients include Fortune 100 firms, start-up firms, and public agencies. He is a frequent seminar trainer on management and leadership and was featured in Smart Business Magazine. Robert is professionally certified to administer a variety of behavioral and psychological type assessments including Myers Briggs Type Indicator™ (MBTI®), TKI® Conflict Mode Instrument, Temperament Theory®, Interaction Styles®, and Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation-Behavior™ (FIRO-B®).

If you enjoyed this article, visit Robert’s blog at and join the management discussion. To learn more about his professional services, visit the Business Consulting Solutions LLC site at

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