Resistance to Change

Introduciton to Resistance to Change

A paper originally written for the seminar Societal Factor in partial fulfillment of the doctoral requirements at for the Nova Southeastern University Program for Higher Education.

Resistance to change is an issue that constantly confronts cross-cultural ministry. When Eastern and Western mentalities interact, resistance is common and often further intensified by cultural, linguistic, and political differences. Cultural "thinking styles" can influence the way people frame or view topics and issues. Stephen Schooling, director of the Institut Biblique in New Caledonia (personal communication, December 1996), related that Melanesians use circular logical patterns in decision making in contrast to a linear pattern that is prevalent in Western logic. The Melanesian method of processing information may appear as resistance, but could also be simply a different decision making frame. Some Eastern cultures do not always perceive resistance in a negative way but value it as prudence. Sometimes resistance is due to the difference in the speed of assimilating data or because of the value of group concession before decision making. Theological and philosophical interpretation process can also be factors when understanding resistance. An example is resistance from pastors who oppose the development of a Bible college on the basis that Bible colleges are not explicitly mentioned in Biblical literature. Other objections may be raised from national leaders who object to inviting professors who are not ordained, use of textbooks that stress "thinking" and hermeneutical concepts instead of indoctrination, or the use of textbooks that are not written by Pentecostal authors. Resistance to change can also present opportunities for learning and challenge traditional thinking. This paper will discuss the taxonomy and stimuli of change, and factors related to resistance in both positive and negative scenarios. The conclusion will address how change can be structured in order to optimize the potential of resistance.

Taxonomy of Change

Definition of Change

Change happens as paradigms shift or evolve resulting in new meanings of relationships and values. A paradigm is defined as a rule or set of rules that mark boundaries and mandate behavior within those boundaries. Success is measured according to how one acts within a paradigm (Flower 1991, pp. 1, 2). If change is cultural, then one can assume it is contextual and defined by its environment. The question is, are there superordinate indicators that would permit a universal definition of change? Lewin (Conner, 1995, pp. 87,88), suggests classifying the change processes according to present, transition, and the desired state. In this scenario, movement in any direction would constitute change. A consensus of change experts suggest that the change process can accelerate in speed, enlarge in scope, and increase in volume, thus making a definition circumstantial. It appears that once a definition for change is articulated, the paradigm is no longer relevant. This explains why Flower (1991, p. 2), relates that leaders manage within paradigms, but lead between them. According to a literature review, change could be defined as a shift within or between paradigms that is either internal or external to an environment, but generally defined within the context of its culture.

The Nature of Change

Wilson (1997, p. 2) relates that change has two aspects: change in mission and strategy, and change in culture and behavior. A change in mission and strategy would imply an organizational infrastructure that is flexible and designed to manage change. Cultural and behavioral aspects appear to be concerned with shifting values, beliefs, expectations, and societal factors within a given context. Smith (1996, pp. 18, 19) suggests that change occurs or is stimulated as the result of societal factors such as social-demographic, technologic, economic, and political forces. Philosophical, moral, theological, and cross-cultural issues related to change which appear to be important to understanding change in a given context, are seldom discussed. A review of literature would indicate that change could be categorized as being natural, engineered, or developmental. Natural change could be described as being spontaneous, physical, and dependent upon the laws of nature while engineered change would include organizational change initiatives, action plans, or structured projects. Developmental change would take into consideration historical factors, growth processes, and the evolution of process. Conner (1992, p. 79), divides change into three levels as follows: (a) micro change that affects the individual, family, or extended family, (b) organizational change that includes church, clubs, unions, or work, and (c) macro change that is environmental, global, or political. Since change appears to be a process that is easier to describe than to define, an understanding of the nature of change would appear to be limited to subjective interpretation unless it is engineered with specific aims. Change is inevitable, manageable, identifiable, according to a consensus of experts, but never completely controllable.

Managing Change

Managing change according to Trahant & Burke (1996, p. 37), implies assessing organizational readiness, overcoming resistance, and measuring the results of change. According to Duck (1993, p. 109,110), "change is intensely personal." In order to effect change, everyone involved must think, feel, or do something different. Duck uses the metaphor that managing change resembles balancing a mobile. An essential rule in managing change is to not wait until a crisis (Flower, 1991, p. 3). Proactive leadership must plan a paradigm shift early enough in order to maintain stability and equilibrium. Change begins at the top by leaders who transform themselves (Sherman, 1994, p. 93). Kotter (1990, p. 5), proposes a plan for managing change from a leadership perspective: (a) establish direction by developing a vision of the future, (b) align people by communicating direction and involvement, and (c) encourage people to move or change through motivation and inspiration. Kirkpatrick (1985, pp. 101-106), begins with a needs assessment that seeks cooperation from all stakeholders. Experts tend to use similar steps in engineering change that include: (a) making tentative plans and time schedules, (b) analyzing and communicating, (c) using appropriate problem-solving methodologies, and (d) procedures for implementing and evaluating change. A synergistic approach, which could include the organization of a human resources development committee to managing change, could result in encouraging stakeholder ownership and maximizing human resources towards the new paradigm.

Stimuli of Change

Technological Factors

Any organization that refuses to acknowledge, forecast, and anticipate technological development, will not survive (Martino, 1993, p. 13). Asymmetrical Digital Subscriber Lines (ASDL), cable modems using satellite communications, Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN), satellite technology, and artificial intelligence are just a few innovations that will change the future (Strom, 1996). The stimulus to keep pace with technological advances appears to be inter-linked to political, economic, demographic, and environmental societal factors. Technology has a potential of stimulating the economy while increasing the efficiency of governments, industry, education, and the private sector. New world markets, international off-site campuses, the Internet, instantaneous language translation, computerized money exchanges, and interactive classrooms appear to be raising ethical and cultural issues. The question of how fast and to what degree society will adapt to changing technology could be a factor in the speed of change. A proactive approach to technology could focus on helping two-thirds world countries integrate technology and research the ethical consequences of change on society. According to Benjamin (1989, p. 1), most authors consider technology as a predominate change factor of the future.

Social Demographic Factors

In the opinion of Hodgkinson (1985), the present population increase favors ethnic minorities and is related to immigration policies. The American population is aging while college enrollments are reflecting an increasing adult education study body. Education, utilities, human services, and law enforcement are a few of the beneficiaries of the new social-demographic scenario. Many futurists, according to Benjamin, (1989, p. 1), believe the future will be characterized by a multiethnic and multicultural interdependence along with an interconnectedness with the environment. An increase in global travel and communications are factors that could develop international relationships, trade, and education. The social-demographic factor might fuel change through supply-and-demand economics, workforce demands, and a demand for product quality and services. Factors that have not been discussed in a literature review are national disasters, plaques, wars, and famines, which also could stimulate change in terms of political activism, health and hygiene services, and conservation. A proactive approach to social-demographic factors could prepare society for global crisis by creating networks or ecosystems of resources and communication.

Economic Factors

Economic factors influence global, national, local, and family paradigms. On the international market, the deregulation and liberalization of product, labor, and financial markets combined with technological and industrial advances should make the 1990's a period of rapid economic growth according to the World Bank. (personal communication, March 6, 1997) The value of oil, trade agreements, free trade, currency prices, and foreign debt are considered by a consensus of experts to be critical to future change. National economic issues such a balanced budget, affirmative action, a new social welfare package, and tax reform should influence the national economy. At particular risk is the status of public education and regulations for small businesses. The local and family economic sectors are potential impetuses to change because of local regulations such as zoning and taxes while a significant family impetus to change is personal debt and the rise in educational levels. A proactive approach to this influence could focus on a debt free society and a revived value in savings. On the world scene, aid could be given in the form of education, resources, and counseling instead of financial grants.

Political Factors

Since this factor is also called control because it takes into account all levels of leadership, it will be assumed that the stakeholders are also included since they empower leadership. According to Maxwell (1993, pp. 35-47), integrity, which forms the basis of credibility, is considered the most important ingredient of leadership because it builds trust. Kouzes & Posner (1995, p. 21, 26) relate that honesty rates as the highest characteristic of admired leaders and an essential factor of credibility. New expectations may be demanded by followers as societies and organizations shift from a management-controlled to a leadership-lead paradigms. Changes in values, beliefs, and ethics could broaden the dichotomy between the public image and the private life of leaders. As societal factors influences change and politics, the real focus of change may not be initiated with leadership but the followers who empower them. When leaders emulate the values, traditions, and expectations of a culture, change can be facilitated on the basis of trust and a shared vision.

Resistance to Change

Nature of Resistance

The greatest setback in managing change is to underestimate people's resistance to change (Galpin, 1995, p. 4). Change can be identified on the levels of ignorance, lacking competency or skills, and not having a will to change. In this scenario, resistance is clearly negative. A counter scenario might view resistance as having a positive effect on structured change by: (a) defining more clearly the change process, (b) focusing energy on consensus issues, (c) validating assumptions and resources, and (d) encourage ownership of the process and result. Conner (1992, p. 26) defines resistance to change as a reaction to anything causing disruption or loss of equilibrium. This explanation would imply that resistance to change is implicit in the definition of change. Conner continues that "people don't resist change as much as its implication." Since change is a task of leaders, resistance is often considered negative because it reflects leadership's effectiveness to initiate and manage change, according to O'Toole, 1996, p. 158.

Stages of Resistance

Resistance to change may have many causes. O'Toole (1996, p. 161-164) lists 33 reasons that deal with negative motivations for resistance. Conner (1992) refers to Kubler-Ross (1969) in comparing the stages of grief to negative changes that are beyond an individuals control. Conner identifies eight stages are identified as follows:

(a) stability that precedes the announcement of change, (b) immobilization or shock that produce confusion and disorientation, (c) denial or the inability to assimilate new information, (d) anger in form of hurt or frustration, (e) bargaining in order to negotiate any negative impact, (f) depression or a sense of hopelessness, (g) testing or exploring new goals, and (h) acceptance. (pp. 131-137)

A basic assumption is again apparent that resistance resembles a pathological disorder or dysfunction. Perhaps the resistance is based on knowledge or information that has not been articulated or related to a cross-cultural norm. If a pastor desires to begin a church in New Caledonia, a custom process must be followed in order to approach the tribal chief of the village. If the church is started without passing through a specific cultural process, it risks being burned and the pastor being evicted. It is possible and probable that leadership may also underestimate the value of resistance and view it as an enemy instead of a possible ally.

Optimizing Resistance

Being proactive about change would necessitate being proactive about resistance. Lippett, Watson, & Westley (1958, p. 230) relate that "many sources of resistance to change in a given system may become stabilizing factors and sources of acceptance..." In military strategy, a general may seek many advisors in order to clearly understand the various variables that may affect the strategic mission. Change strategy could also optimize resistance by first distinguishing between the friends and foes of the proposed change effort. McKeachie (1994, p. 350) mentions that motivation is a combination of expectation and values. If a change effort lacks the support of expectation and values, a tactical error could occur that could potentially sabotage the intended mission. Assuming the resistance is based on malice, jealousy, or pride, a change paradigm may expose the stakeholders intents which would result in a win-win scenario. Rather than label potential facilitators of change as resistors or allies, perhaps a third category termed advocates might honor those who possess positive motives while being reluctant to change because of logical or intuitive factors.


Structuring for Change

According to a consensus of experts, a change initiative should involve all levels of an organization and include strategic and action planning and the use of change strategies. Rothwell and Kazanas (1994, p. 237) define strategic planning as the awareness of how future conditions may affect present decisions or past actions. Strategic planning in this context would be a proactive approach to optimizing opportunities or averting difficulties in strategic increments. A review and revision of the mission statement, objectives, and comprehensive strategic plan of the organization could establish a positive change infrastructure. The optimal objective would be to lead the organization towards a learning organization. A learning organization promotes a culture that values ideas, change, and translates new knowledge into new behaviors (Hannah, Harris, and Harris, 1997, p. 70). Action planning is defined by Beckhard and Harris as cited by Rothwell, Sullivan and McLean (1995, p. 173), as a process of developing strategies and action plans in order to manage the transition between the present and future. Action plans can be useful on either a personal or organizational level and focus vision on specific, verifiable goals. A literature review suggests that change strategies are models that focus on specific or related changes in either a mission or strategy. Because of the diversity and extensive nature of change strategies, a strategic planner can choose or adapt models that fit his or her organizational needs.

Structuring for change is not only possible but recommended by a consensus of experts if the organization desires to remain competitive.

New Paradigms

"The single most important determinant of success is strong, committed senior leadership in the earliest stages of change - hands down (Gooler, 1996, p. 41). This statement is prefaced on transformation leadership principles that enable followers and lead by consensus. The author continues that change tends to become more transactional as it progresses. Perhaps paradigms experience leadership transitions that begin as transformational, change to transactional, and end up as autocratic where they are left defending a paradigm that no longer has value. Kouzes and Posner (1993) relate that effective leadership should build a consensus around core beliefs and values and then emulate those values to the public. Cultural sensitivity to followers and to advocates of change would imply keeping the lines of communication open and free from intimidation. New paradigms are inevitable; however, the participants will probably remain the same. Perhaps the greatest opportunity in paradigm shifts lies in what the participants learn through the process rather than the arrival into a new paradigm that will inevitably change. Resistance to change could be a warning to focus on people rather than processes.

David Martz, Ed.D. is a foreign missionary with the Assemblies of God and an associate dean at the Global University of the Assemblies of God School of Graduate Studies. Doctoral degree was in the field of adult education and his dissertation focused on a leadership development model for cross-cultural Bible colleges. David is also the chair for the leadership concentration and is a professor of education at Global University.


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