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with change. I don’t wish, by the way, to diminish others you may also use by limiting myself to a selective list. But when was the last time you

looked at newer research and ideas? Te problem is simple: change management books don’t sell well – so said one of my publishers. While there are many on the market, Kotter does rather dominate. For 21st century thinking, we need to root around some of the more academic sources. Tere, we find much of interest that should stimulate new thinking.

What is resistance?

Inevitably, if you read a lot, and especially if you include some academic texts and research papers, you will find many defi- nitions. Some authors don’t even bother to define it: it must be self-evident. Most define resistance, either explicitly or implicitly, as a natural reaction to change; mostly a reaction against change. For most writers after Lewin it is a psychological response. Indeed, I can often be heard citing my first rule of change: resistance is inevitable.

Change is part of our landscape, and one of the forces that shapes it daily

❝ We will see that this is disputed and

therefore I am wondering if this rule is really solid. Lewin, by the way, saw resistance as a far more systemic phe- nomenon, in which psychology plays one part, and social, cognitive and physical forces also act to counter the forces for change. More recently, some researchers are reintroducing this perspective. In this article, I want to survey four papers that have given me pause for thought in honing my understanding of resistance to change. I do this, not to represent, nor less to argue for, the ideas their authors put forward. I am merely offering my own understanding of those ideas in the hope that you may be motivated to investigate further and review your own understanding.

Resistance is not inevitable

Perhaps the simplest of the ideas I surveyed is put forward by Kilian M Bennebroek Gravenhorst.5

He finds that the majority of people he surveyed 18 | june 2016 |

in six different large-scale organisa- tional change programmes supported change, rather than resisted it. He also found that people nearer the top of the organisation (the strategists) were most supportive. Implementers were marginally less so and recipients were least supportive, although still with positive support for change running at more than 50 per cent in all cases, and more than 70 per cent in five of them. Bennebroek Gravenhorst’s argument can be summed up in one statement: resistance is mainly caused by a change approach that excludes relevant stakeholders from the change process. I share this perception from my

own experience. What it caused me to consider is whether my first rule of change, ‘resistance is inevitable’, is valid. My conclusion arose when I considered my understanding of Aikido, a martial art I practice at a low level. In Aikido, we try to avoid resistance by ‘agreeing’ with our partner (attacker). By blending with their attack, they are less aware of our defence and have nothing to resist. In a more nuanced version of my rule: resistance is inevitable, if you give people something to push back against.

Replace resistance with ambivalence

In her article for the Academy of Management Review,6

Sandy Piderit

argues that negative responses to change can be motivated by positive intentions, and that what organisations need is ambivalence. Tis is not a ‘don’t care’ attitude, but a nuanced response that holds the pros and cons simultaneously. She cites numerous examples, building our responses to change from three dimensions: emotional, cognitive and intentional. In a marvellous quote from the

wonderful Mary Parker Follett, Piderit draws on the point that Bennebroek Gravenhorst makes, and I cannot resist re-quoting it: “we shouldn't put to... workers

finished plans in order merely to get their consent… one of two things is likely to happen, both bad: either we shall get a rubber-stamped consent and thus lose what they might contribute to the problem in question, or else we shall find ourselves with a fight on our hands – an open fight or discontent seething underneath”.7 Neither blind compliance nor

needless strife are helpful. What we need is more subtlety. Or, to be more precise, people prefer simplicity on a psychological level and we call this congruence. But our organisations need us to respond with more subtlety. Her first example is a familiar one to anyone who knows Scott and Jaffe’s work or the many variants of it. In the transition from exploring to committing, we can support a change cognitively, while rejecting it emotionally. But Piderit shows how our ambivalence can sit between any of the three dimensions, and even within one dimension. Intentional ambivalence may play out in opposing change we fear or are critical of through ‘secret’ means such as suggestion boxes, while supporting it openly to avoid appearing publicly as a trouble-maker. Piderit’s paper is a rich combi-

nation of a survey of research and reasoned polemic. It has caused me to deepen my understanding of responses to change and modify my approach to harnessing resistance.

The role of change agents

Also appearing in the Academy of Management Review is an intriguingly titled paper by Jeffrey Ford, Laurie Ford and Angelo d’Amelio.8 Tey make three valuable sugges-

tions, culminating in the suggestion that resistance can be a good thing. First, they suggest that a lot of what we describe as resistance is merely an interpretation that change-makers place on responses that have their own motivations, but may not be motivated by opposition. Tey call this sense-making and attribute it in part to the phenomenon of getting what we look for. We expect resistance (because we think it is inevitable) and so interpret what we get as resistance. Indeed, they go on to suggest that framing behaviours as resistance is self-serving in that it ‘excuses’ defensive responses by the change agents, and can also set up an excuse for problems and setbacks in the change process. Teir second suggestion takes this

further, in suggesting that change agents themselves contribute to resistance by damaging trust and not encouraging the best possible communication. Hence my golden rule9

for handling resistance: I will

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