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Change Resistance
Part 2 of 5

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When change is initiated in organizations, a number of patterns may emerge, depending on the magnitude of the change, how and when it is presented, and past experiences with change. Three patterns are de­scribed below in simple terms that reflect the nature of the response: sizzle, drizzle, and fizzle.


Sizzle is the most positive, productive pattern of change, which takes place smoothly and quickly and usually results in long-term success. There is clear vision and consensus about the need for, and value of, the proposed change. Leaders and employees trust each other to fulfill their responsibilities in carrying out the change. Implementation is planned, and everyone gets to work and actively participates in the change initiative. Progress is reviewed and when problems are encoun­tered they are mutually worked out. There is an excitement in working toward a better situation and success is recognized and rewarded.


Drizzle is a less positive, productive pattern that may ultimately result in some long-term success. The characteristic of this pattern is that even when success is achieved, it is often at the expense of unusual time or cost. While most people in the organization may see the need for change, not everyone actively and effectively pur­sues it. There may be pockets of resistance, lack of trust, a poor implementation plan, lack of a clear vision, and other issues that slow the process of change.


Fizzle is the least positive, productive pattern. Any success that is achieved will be limited and sporadic. There is little understanding of the need for change or commitment to it. Little trust exists and there is significant resistance, either overt or covert. Most people hope that the new initiative will go away so that things can get back to normal. There may be some token activity toward the ultimate objective, but sooner or later, there will be a slow, natural death.
Obviously, of the three, the most likely pattern for success is sizzle. Why don't all (or even most) organizations experience this pattern when changes are introduced? How can they move away from the more com­mon pattern of drizzle and fizzle to sizzling solutions?

A significant point to be made in discussing the participants in the change process is to recognize that the term "organizational change," while widely used, is a bit of a misnomer. Organizations don't, as an entity, change; however, the people within them do. The focus in the further treatment of change in organizations, must, therefore, be on the people who create change or are affected by it.

In the context of organizational change, participants (people) might be viewed as either initiators or recipients. Initiators identify the need for change and arrive at an implementation approach, while the recipi­ents are presented with the change and asked to implement it. Some of this activity may be peer-to-peer in nature, but it often involves power differentials, with the initiator wielding most of the power and the re­cipient feeling powerless or left out. This situation is full of potential for drizzle and fizzle if power is truly an issue. When the techniques identified later on are used, the effects can be minimized.

The most common form of this model is the situation where man­agement is the initiator and workers the recipients. The balance of this paper will use this management-worker perspective. It should be pointed out that more complicated treatments might include more levels (top management -> middle management -> supervisors -> workers) with multiple initiator/recipient connections or peer-to-peer relations (de­partments, teams, etc.). In the change process, each of these two enti­ties, management and workers, has specific interests, needs, perspec­tives, and responsibilities. In situations where sizzle is not the norm, the inability of these two very important groups to work together will almost certainly create drizzle or fizzle, if not downright revolt.


Managers, as a rule, are more comfortable with change than workers, and higher-level managers are more comfortable with change than lower-level managers. Often, they have risen to the management ranks by being able to lead change, initiate change, or respond effectively to change initiated by others. They must be prepared to LEAD the change process. Their training, ability, and experience give them a broader perspective of the organization and its competitive environment, and they can see the benefits that a proposed change would have. On the other hand, they sometimes look at proposed changes in logical, clini­cal terms and forget that humans will be affected at some point. Some managers also have the attitude that they know what's right and are unwilling to listen to others who might have more intimate knowledge of the impact of proposed changes.


Workers (and often lower-level managers) are usually more resistant to change. The work that they perform gives them a narrow perspec­tive of things and they can't see why it is necessary to upset the apple cart and change things that work perfectly well. They often see change as a threat to their job or comfort level and feel like they're kept in the dark all the time. They struggle with whether or not they have the abil­ity to handle a change and fail to see the benefit to them, personally. Finally, they may have had previous bad experiences with change that make them reluctant to move to a sizzle environment.

The relationship and interaction among these two groups has a pro­found effect on the success or failure of change. A recent study con­ducted by Wyatt Work USA surveyed 4,300 U.S. companies with 100 or more employees, and 54 percent of managers identified employee resistance as the major impediment to change. Hourly employees, on the other hand, cited the lack of management visibility as the major obstacle of change (6). In order for effective change to occur, coopera­tion and communication is required from both sides. What causes em­ployees to resist change, and what can be done by management and
workers to eliminate the resistance present under drizzle and fizzle and move on to sizzle?

To Be Continued


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