It is resilience-to-change not resistance-to-change

When you focus on organisational change the term resistance to change is often mentioned. It is as if certain groups of employees intentionally won’t change – indeed, they resist it.

However, perhaps we should look at this phenomenon from a different – e.g. sociological – angle: institutionalisation. This is the process of “something” becoming embedded within an organisation as an established custom or norm. So, if your corporate values are honesty, trust and loyalty  it is the process of institutionalisation that created these.

When a company has strong norms and values you would say that it has attained a high degree of resilience. One way you measure this resilience is the time it takes for newcomers to adapt to this resilient way of doing things. The point is that most of the time resilience is a really good thing for an organisation. 

Tushman, Newman and Romaneli say: “The most successful firms maintain a workable equilibrium for several years (or decades), but are also able to initiate and carry out sharp, widespread changes when their environments shift . . . Less successful firms . . . get stuck in a particular pattern.”

Companies getting stuck are basically becoming too resilient and this is where the term organisational inertia is helpful. When environments shift parts of the organisation – often those parts closer to the shift – see the need for change. Meanwhile the rest of the organisation continues to be strong and resilient. Very often this is not intentional resistance, it is merely continuing on the ‘right path’.  It is only when the organisation as a whole experiences enough dissatisfaction with the current modus operandi that the desire for change becomes bigger than than the resilience (or inertia).

If we would see resistance to change for what it really is – resilience to change – repurposing this resilience will become easier and more ‘natural.


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