Change is hard.

This is a frequent, and perhaps well-worn sentiment amongst those who concern themselves with the management of for-profit enterprises.

It’s corollary, of course, is that change is necessary – that in order for an organization to be successful, it must be open to, and willing to accept change. Better still if your company is able to anticipate and embrace it.[1]

So important is the capacity to “change”—and the idea that organizational change is good—the Academy of Management (AOM) created an entire subdivision to deal with these topics. According to their domain statement, the Organization Development and Change division “is devoted to empirical research, theory development, and practical application concerning all forms of organization change.” Notably, this would include:

“The reactions and responses of people to change such as readiness for change, engagement in change, and resistance to change…”

And “resistance to change” would indeed seem to be the issue.

Or at least according to many of those who write about the subject. In “Why do employees resist change?” (from the Harvard Business Review), Peter Strebel writes that “for many employees…including middle managers, change is neither sought after nor welcomed. It is disruptive and intrusive.”[2] In “Overcome the 5 Main Reasons Employees Resist Change,” Lisa Quast (writing for Forbes Magazine) observes “…resistance can range from fairly subtle, such as avoidance or passive aggressive behavior, all the way to outright defiance, hostility, and sabotage.”[3] And in “5 Ways to Embrace Change in Work and in Life,” Rhett Power (writing for Inc. Magazine) insists “Change never seems natural. We naturally repel it…”[4]

And so with this in mind, it is interesting to consider the work of pioneering organizational sociologist Joan Woodward.

Back in the 1950s, Woodward studied manufacturing firms to determine “whether any particular form of organization was associated with management efficiency and success.”[5] Her findings, which she would publish in Industrial Organization: Theory and Practice (1965), became the foundation of a so-called “contingency theory” of management (which will be the subject of an upcoming post.)

Perhaps no less remarkable, however, are her observations from those studies regarding organizational change, and employees receptiveness to it. Yes, that’s right – receptiveness.

Consider the following excerpted comments from Woodward’s text [my emphasis in each case]:

  • “…research workers obtained an impression of the way that people reacted to change. The surprising thing was the almost complete lack of resistance.” (p. 48)
  • “…for most people change was something that led to prosperity and expansion.” (same page)
  • “Indeed, the general impression was that the industrial population of [the firms Woodward studied] had been conditioned not only to accept change but welcome and enjoy it. In one firm the operators told a research worker that if the workshop looked the same for more than three months at a time they would begin to think the firm was going down hill.” (same page)

 

See you next week.

 


Bloggers Note: The point of this post is not to convince you that all employees welcome change. Quite the contrary. Surely some do, while others undoubtedly don’t. Instead, the larger point I’m trying to make with this, and all of the posts in my “Unconventional (mis)management non-wisdom” series, is simply this: For each and every pearl of management “wisdom” that you might come across, or have otherwise come to believe, there exists an equally sincere argument, or equally convincing observation that disputes it, or advocates for behaving in precisely the opposite way.


 

Endnotes

[1] “3 Ways to Embrace Change at Your Company” by Kathy Collins. Fortune Magazine (online), July 1, 2105. http://fortune.com/2015/07/01/kathy-collins-lead-transition/. Retrieved Dec. 8, 2016.

[2] https://hbr.org/1996/05/why-do-employees-resist-change. Retrieved Dec. 8, 2016.

[3] http://www.forbes.com/sites/lisaquast/2012/11/26/overcome-the-5-main-reasons-people-resist-change/#7884cceb3393. Retrieved Dec. 8, 2016.

[4] http://www.inc.com/rhett-power/5-ways-to-embrace-change-at-work-and-in-life.html. Retrieved Dec. 8, 2016.

[5] Woodward, Joan. Industrial Organization: Theory and Practice (2nd Ed.), Oxford University Press, 1980 (1965, 1st Ed.), p. 14.