Resistance and organizational change in child care agencies
Many efforts are made by management to initiate change in
child care agencies to address problems or to improve services in the agency,
but they often meet with staff resistance. This happens so often and has such a
negative effect on the agency culture with respect to change, that it might be
useful to examine the concept of resistance to see if that can lead to improved
and perhaps needed organizational change.
Hundreds of years ago Machiavelli wrote “there is nothing more difficult to take
in hand, more perilous to conduct or more uncertain in its success, than to take
the lead in the introduction of a new order of things” and many years later in
England Samuel Johnson wrote “Change is not made without inconvenience, even
from worse to better”. These words are still true today as any supervisor
who has tried changing things in her unit can attest.
Today the social and administrative sciences have gone beyond the recognition
that change is difficult and have found that child care agencies can make change
efficiently and effectively if resistance is understood and dealt with
constructively. To this end four principles of dealing with resistance are
1. Resistance is in the eye of the beholder
Managers who initiate change tend to see behaviors that seem to oppose the
change as ‘resistance’. Staff whose work world is usually being changed or are
asked to implement a change, often see it as an attempt to save money on the
backs of staff or an effort on the part of management to try out new fangled
ideas that won’t work, or as another reorganization program which didn’t work in
the past and won’t work now.
2.Understanding resistance is more important than trying to overcome
Resistance should be seen as an early stage of a change process that occurs
frequently, is normal and can be useful. It can indicate weaknesses in
management’s change plan and it can also reveal the need for management to talk
more specifically and to provide more detail about the change plan, its reasons
for trying it now and its potential payoffs for the agency.
Encouraging staff to voice their concerns can eliminate unforeseen problems of a
change plan – which sometimes only staff can spot – before they can occur.
3. People resist being changed!
Managers who initiate change need to find some methods that invite staff
into the change planning process early and sincerely which can make the change
plan more of a joint effort. If this involvement effort does not reflect a
‘pseudo-participative’ strategy it can result in low staff resistance (and even
high commitment) towards the change plan.
If it is a top-down change effort, i.e. staff
being changed – the chances
of ‘resistance’ increasing is high (and commitment tends to be low).
4. People do resist change
It is probably true that there is a universal inborn or a social learned
reluctance to experience change. Some reasons for this are discussed below:
1. Uncertainty – most of us become anxious when the physical setting,
relationships, work load, job procedures or policies of our job are faced with
change. We’re most comfortable with the known and most uncomfortable with the
unknown, and when our work environment is threatened with change our
non-rational self may emerge. It is when such fears are present that staff can
start resisting change ideas even good ones. We might add that sometimes staffs
fantasies about the contemplated change are usually much worse than the real
2. Loss of control – being in control over significant parts of our work
environment is essential to staffs’ sense of comfort and security. When change
plans arise in our work world, staff may experience that as threatening and
begin to wonder about their job
security. Especially is this so when they feel they don’t have any real
influence how the change will play out.
3. Worry about loss of status – staffs’ location in a status hierarchy (pecking
order) in the agency is important and when change occurs in the agency there is
a worry (sometimes reasonable) that their status position in the agency might be
reduced. When staff feels that way resistance will likely occur. Management can
sometimes design their change plan so that staffs’ ‘earned’ position in the
agency’s status hierarchy can be
Often the real reason for any opposition to a change doesn’t
surface openly at meetings but management who are planning a change can benefit
from understanding and using these principles for dealing with resistance. They
should seek to formulate a change plan which reassures staff if at all possible
that these losses would be minimal.
Whatever the reasons behind staffs’ early oppositional behavior to a change, it
is probably useful to encourage staff to bring their thoughts and fears out in
the open. Management often has a desire to hear only positive responses to their
proposed change plans but that may prevent them from getting valuable
information about flaws in their change
plan. Keeping a non-defensive mindset at these meetings can help
management get good
information. It should also help them work with the ‘resisters’ and
not against them.
Finally it is important to recognize that some top-own change or restructuring
efforts are just a prelude to layoffs and more work. The savvy child care worker
needs to know that. We’ll deal with such a possibility in a future column.