Education NPQSL Self Awareness Strategic Leadership Succeeding in Senior Leadership Understanding Context

Managing Change and Overcoming Resistance

Schermerhorn et al (2005) suggest eight reasons that people may have for resisting change:

  1. fear of the unknown
  2. lack of good information
  3. fear of loss of security
  4. no reasons to change
  5. fear of loss of power
  6. lack of resources
  7. bad timing
  8. habit

and propose that to overcome resistance certain criteria need to be met:

  • Benefit: whatever it is that is changing, that change should have a clear relative advantage for those being asked to change; it should be seen as ‘a better way’;
  • Compatability: the change should be as compatible as possible with existing values and experiences of the people being asked to change;
  • Complexity: the change should be no more complex than necessary; it must be as easy as possible for people to understand and use;
  • Triability: the change should be something that people can try on a step-by-step basis and make adjustments as things progress.

It strikes me that reasons 1-6 may be founded on the belief of the resisting individual/group that the change is being imposed on them. It is also quite common to encounter challenge/blocking, or passivity/neutrality because of a view that “we don’t get paid (enough) to do that, it’s not our job, we’re not the leaders”. I’m not altogether convinced that some of the criteria are always appropriate; after all if the established habit, values and experience of an organisation are the reason it’s in a pickle then you’d be ill advised to pander to them.

John Kotter’s eight phases of change model is shown below:

Kotter's Model

It’s clear that the ‘creating the climate for change’ and the ‘engaging and enabling the whole organisation’ phases should be powerful agents in overcoming the view that change is being imposed. The article I’ve just read actually points out that inexperienced leaders often jump to the last few steps without having prepared the ground and consequently face resistance. It also seems reasonable to assume that many of the barriers identified by Schermerhorn would also be addressed by the Kotter Model.

But what about the “we don’t get paid (enough) to do that, it’s not our job, we’re not the leaders” type line? I’m not sure that just looking at the model or even reading the text version in my materials really helps me to sort that out. It all sounds a bit sterile and pseudo-management gobbledygook. When I see the phrase “communicate for buy-in” or even the slightly less hackneyed “share the vision” I start to feel a touch uncomfortable. But…. I think that when you listen to him talk about the process it begins to make a lot more sense. Have a look at the clip of video:

Win the hearts and minds. Effective change is founded on an effort based on a 60/40 split between the two. Ok, so how does that help me? To me this means it’s not just about getting people to ‘like the plan’ or even for them to ‘buy-in’ to the task or change being proposed. For really effective teams there has to be something more. Let me turn briefly to my past experience.

During military service I worked alongside many outstanding leaders. Some of them were junior to me and most more senior. The difference in pay between us was, I’d guess, significant. The difference in experience was often substantial. However there was never an occasion when, faced with a task, someone said “we don’t get paid (enough) to do that, it’s not our job, we’re not the leaders”. Now some might argue that the reason for this lay in the part played by military discipline and of course this does play a part. But I’d argue that it was something much more powerful than fear of consequences that meant everyone made stuff happen. It sounds a bit old fashioned but I’d suggest what was essential was the esprit de corps that existed within the organisation and that an element of leadership was expected at all levels. The ‘minds’had been trained extensively and everyone understood their part in the whole but perhaps more importantly (remember Kotter’s split 40/60?) the ‘hearts’ were absolutely committed.

So…I’d agree with Kotter’s model but I’d say that developing and sharing a vision is at least going on at the same time as creating the guiding team if not a pre-condition for doing so. But the vision isn’t necessarily about where you want to end up. I’d argue that the real vision you need to get over is that every last person in the organisation shares responsibility for leadership: total leadership. It is absolutely clear to me that leadership is a collective capacity. However the buck must ultimately stop somewhere and a senior leader has to work to establish and maintain the esprit de corps that is the heart of successful organisations. In the central thinkpiece for the module there is a lovely quote that neatly sums up what I’m getting at when it says a senior leader must act as “the external reservoir of hope for the institution, preserving its collective self belief and directional focus against the pressure of events” Flintham (2002).





By richmiller66

My name is Richard Miller. I am currently an Assistant Headteacher (Personal Development) at a secondary school in Suffolk, UK. I teach history, citizenship, sociology and cultural capital for pupils aged 11-18. I am particularly interested in teaching more able pupils and looking for innovative and creative approaches to learning and teaching. I use the blog as my reflective journal - the views I share are 'work in progress'!

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