In the course of considering and implementing change, the need frequently arises for effective application of the approaches and tools for managing resistance to change (Palmer, Dunford, & Akin, 2009). Change often fails from ineffective management of the internal and external forces of resistance opposing change (Kotter & Schlesinger, 2008; Oreg, 2003; Palmer et al., 2009). In response, this paper discusses the approaches (tools) deemed most essential for managing resistance to change relative to the scope of the situational contexts in which they might be applied. The discussion centers on considerations for the multidimensional conceptualizations of resistance that are often ignored in evaluating alternatives for taking action.
Multidimensional Conceptualizations of Resistance
Strategies for reducing the negative effects of resistance to change most often fail from an incomplete understanding of the multidimensional nature and scope of resistance (Kotter & Schlesinger, 2008). A more complete understanding of these multidimensional characteristics evolves from considering the meaning of the term. Davidson defines resistance as “. . . anything that workers do which managers do not want them to do, and that workers do not do that managers wish them to do” (Piderit, 2000, p. 785). Thus, in a fundamental sense, the task of resolving problems of resistance to change essentially crystallizes into one of controlling or motivating the dispositional behaviors of employees to facilitate successful outcomes (Gagné & Deci, 2005; Kotter & Schlesinger, 2008). Similarly, Palmer et al., (2009) conceptually define the task of change leadership as one of controlling or shaping behaviors in response to change.
However, the dispositional reactions of employees to change vary widely over multiple dimensions. For example, Piderit (2000) views resistance as being a combination of an individual’s affective (feelings), cognitive (beliefs), and behavioral (actions) reactions to change. According to Piderit (2000), each of these components contributes to an individual’s disposition to resist or support change, which can range along a continuum from strong opposition to ambivalence to strong support. Oreg (2003) characterizes behavioral responses to change in terms of the perceived degrees of fairness of both change outcomes (distributive justice) and the change process (procedural justice), as mediated by differences in personality traits and contextual elements such as self-efficacy, tolerance for change, and social influence.
Further conceptualizations of the multidimensional nature and scope of resistance are captured in goal regulation theory (Meyer, Becker, & Vandenberghe, 2004), which is grounded in theories related to regulatory focus (Higgins, 2002) and self-determination (Deci & Ryan, 2008; Gagné & Deci, 2005). This integrated theory characterizes varying levels and polarity of behavioral responses to change relative to affective, normative, or...