Choosing Strategies for Change


October 2002

Choosing Strategies for Change


In “Choosing Strategies for Change,” John P. Kotter and Leonard A. Schlesinger explain one major area of change-resistance-and how managers overcome it. Typically every four to five years, organizations go through a major organizational change in response to a changing workforce, technological advances, new product development, competition, or government regulations.

Diagnosing Resistance
To choose a strategy for change, you must first determine why your employees are resisting the change effort. The authors present four types of resistance.

Parochial self-interest
People believe they will lose something that they deserve to have because of their role in the organization. This loss could be power or recognition.

Misunderstanding and lack of trust
People don’t understand how change will affect them. Most organizations lack a high level of trust between employees and managers, which leads to misunderstanding when change is introduced.

Different assessments
People perceive change differently from management. They see costs rather than benefits. Differences in assessing current problems result in resistance because each group is working with different information.

Low tolerance
People fear they can’t develop the new skills and behaviors necessary to handle change. People may recognize that change is necessary but have a limited tolerance for change, leading to resistance.

Dealing with Resistance
Understanding the types of resistance that occur during a change effort is only half the battle. You must also plan how to deal with the resistance.

Education and communication
It is essential to set up an education and communication program to help overcome resistance before change is implemented. Communicating the reasons for change helps people understand the need. Communication may include one-on-one discussions, group presentations, memos, reports, or a combination of methods.

Participation and involvement
Include the people who will be impacted by change to overcome their resistance. Listen and use their advice in the design and implementation of the change. Involving people in the change process leads to commitment. Participation and involvement are time-consuming and may not be ideal in all change situations.

Facilitation and support
When fear and anxiety run high because of change, being supportive is key. Support might include training on new skills or giving time off after a demanding period.

Negotiation and agreement
Incentives, such as higher wages or an increase in pension benefits, is another way to handle resistors. Negotiation is helpful when people believe they are going to lose out in some way as a result of change. Negotiation does make management more vulnerable.

Manipulation and co-optation
Manipulation and co-optation are similar to involvement; however, instead of seeking the advice of the individual, managers look for an endorsement of change. The key is to avoid making people feel they are being tricked into buying into change.

Explicit and implicit coercion
As risky as manipulation, coercion uses a threat to force an individual to accept change. This threat might be loss of a job, promotion possibilities, and so on. When change is unpopular, no matter how it’s introduced, coercion could be an option.

Two common mistakes managers make include using only one approach regardless of the situation and not developing a clear strategy.

To develop a strategic direction for the change effort, keep these four factors in mind:

  • the amount and kind of resistance that is anticipated
  • the position of the initiator in relationship to the resistors, especially regarding power
  • the person with the relevant data to design the change and the energy to implement it
  • the stakes involved

Managers can significantly help change efforts by

  • conducting an organizational analysis that identifies the current situation, problems, and the forces that are possible causes of those problems
  • conducting an analysis of factors relevant to producing the needed changes
  • selecting a change strategy based on the analysis
  • monitoring the implementation process

Change can be difficult. But having the ability to recognize the types of resistance and how to overcome them is an integral part of a successful change initiative. CIDMIconNewsletter