Resistance To Change In Organizations Comes From These 5 Factors

Leadership IQ studied more than 79,000 employees and leaders, and discovered that employees’ resistance to change management efforts comes from these 5 factors...

Every organization and leader experiences resistance to change. But as frustrating as it may be, it can be overcome IF you understand the 5 major factors that drive resistance to change. Based on four Leadership IQ studies, involving more than 79,000 employees and leaders, this report will show you the underlying causes of resistance to change, and how your change management efforts can overcome them. Key findings from the study include:

  • Only 15% of employees always understand the rationale behind their leaders' strategy
  • 24% of an employee’s belief that the company needs to change is driven by whether they understand the rationale behind those changes
  • 23% of an employee’s belief that the company needs to change is driven by their confidence is their personal ability to succeed in your change management initiatives
  • Only 28% of respondents say that they like taking risks
  • Only 15% of employees believe that their organization always openly shares the challenges facing it
  • Only 22% of frontline employees like to leave their comfort zone

STUDY METHODOLOGY
This report was developed using four different studies. In STUDY #1, Leadership IQ surveyed 31,664 employees and leaders. STUDY #1 respondents represented the following demographics: POSITION: Executives (11%), Middle Managers (41%), Frontline Employees (48%). In STUDY #2, Leadership IQ surveyed 27,048 executives, managers and employees from January-June, 2017. STUDY #2 respondents represented the following demographics: COMPANY SIZE [EMPLOYEES]: 1-499 employees (40.0%), 500-4,999 employees (30.8%), 5,000+ employees (29.2%). In STUDY #3, 7,745 people took an online test called ““What’s Your Style Of Change Management?” STUDY #3 respondents represented the following demographics: GENDER: Female (48%), Male (52%). In STUDY #4, 12,801 people took an online test called “Do You Set SMART Goals Or HARD Goals?” STUDY #4 respondents represented the following demographics: GENDER: Female (54%), Male (46%)-- COMPANY SIZE [EMPLOYEES]: 1-9 (5%), 10-50 (9%), 51-100 (13%), 101-500 (21%), 501-2,000 (17%), 2,001-5,000 (9%), 5,001-10,000 (7%), 10,000+ (19%).

FINDING #1: RESISTANCE TO CHANGE COMES BECAUSE only 15% of Employees Understand the Rationale Behind Leaders’ Strategy

It makes sense to think that the more an employee understands the rationale behind our strategy, business decisions and change efforts, the more likely they’ll be to support our change management efforts.  In Study #1, Leadership IQ asked 31,664 employees and leaders whether they understand the rationale behind their organization's strategy (e.g. economic, marketplace, competitive factors, etc.). Sadly, a paltry 15% Always understand the rationale behind their organization's strategy (e.g. economic, marketplace, competitive factors, etc.)

As you can see, there are more people who Never or Rarely understand the rationale behind their organization's strategy than there are those who Always or Frequently do. If people don't understand why they need to change, they won't change. After all, if an organization seems to be plugging along, doing reasonably well, why would it need to make a seemingly sudden shift to something else? That would seem to be unwarranted at best, and destructive at worst.  Not only is a change effort in that context likely to incur significant resistance from employees, it's also likely to damage executives' reputations severely. If a change effort, or radical shift in strategy, seems capricious or poorly thought-out, the leaders behind those changes are going to be tainted.

In this same study, Leadership IQ conducted a regression analysis between the following two questions: “I believe that this organization needs to change in order to remain successful” AND “I understand the rationale behind this organization's strategy (e.g. economic, marketplace, competitive factors, etc.).”

When we plotted these questions, we discovered a significant positive relationship. In essence, 24% of an employee’s belief that the company needs to change is driven by whether they understand the rationale behind those changes (R-Squared: 0.240666, p-value: < 0.0001). 

If you’re seeing significant resistance to change from your employees, it could be because they don’t understand the rationale behind those changes. But the more they DO understand the rationale behind your decision, the less resistance to change you’re going to experience.

FINDING #2: RESISTANCE TO CHANGE COMES BECAUSE Employees Doubt They Can Be Successful In This Change Effort

It makes sense to think that the more confident employees feel about their ability to successfully navigate your change management efforts, the less resistance to change you’ll see.  Using the same study as Finding #1, Leadership IQ asked 31,664 employees and leaders the following 2 questions: “I believe that this organization needs to change in order to remain successful” AND “I am confident that I will personally be successful with the changes currently underway at this organization.”

When we plotted these questions, we again discovered a significant positive relationship. In essence, 23% of an employee’s belief that the company needs to change is driven by their confidence is their personal ability to succeed in your change management initiatives (R-Squared: 0.227627, p-value: < 0.0001). 

If you’re seeing significant resistance to change from your employees, it could from a lack of confidence on their part. And a lack of confidence often comes from insufficient training, support, learning opportunities and psychological safety.

FINDING #3: RESISTANCE TO CHANGE COMES BECAUSE Leaders Don’t Share The Challenges Facing The Organization

When employees understand the challenges facing the organization, they’re going to be more inclined to support changes to address those challenges. In the data from Study #2, Leadership IQ surveyed 27,048 executives, managers and employees and found that only 15% of employees believe that their organization Always openly shares the challenges facing it.  

It’s going to be difficult to overcome resistance to change when employees don’t understand the challenges that precipitated the change.  And not only does this impact resistance to change, it also impacts how employees feel about working at the company. This study discovered that 63% of employees who think their organization Always openly shares the challenges facing it will strongly recommend it as a great organization to work for. By contrast, only 6% of employees who think their organization Never openly shares the challenges facing it will strongly recommend it as a great organization to work for.  In other words, if an employee believes their company openly shares the challenges facing it, they’re about 10 times more likely to recommend it as a great employer. 

FINDING #4: RESISTANCE TO CHANGE COMES BECAUSE Employees Don’t Love Taking Risks

One of the questions on our online test “What’s Your Style Of Change Management?” asks respondents to choose between these 3 options: “I like taking risks” OR “I would take a risk if it seemed prudent” OR “I avoid risks.”
Overall, about 28% of respondents say that they like taking risks. If your company is going through a change management initiative that seems risky, you’re likely to hit resistance to change if only 28% of people like taking risks.

However, we discovered big differences in how people viewed change when we dissected the data by position. For instance, 40% of top executives like taking risks. But for frontline employees, that number is only 24%. So in the average company, the CEO is 66% more likely to enjoy taking risks than the employees. 

There are several lessons here: First, if your change management initiative seems risky, especially in the eyes of employees, you’re probably going to incur resistance to change. You might look at the riskiness and think ‘wow, this is really cool; finally some excitement!’ But given what the above data shows, it’s quite likely that your employees don’t view the riskiness quite so favorably.

Second, if you’re the executive who’s initiating this change management program, you probably have a very different assessment of what constitutes ‘risk’ than your employees. To you, this change might seem like the easiest thing ever. But are your employees going to see it that way? 

FINDING #5: RESISTANCE TO CHANGE COMES BECAUSE TOP EXECUTIVES ARE 91% MORE LIKELY TO ENJOY LEAVING THEIR COMFORT ZONE

Change management efforts require that people leave their comfort zones (otherwise it wouldn’t be a change, it would just be the normal daily routine). And comfort zones are, by definition, comfortable. So it would make sense that the less someone likes to leave their comfort zone, the more likely they are to evidence resistance to change.

The 12,801 people who took the test in Study #4 were asked to choose between the statements, “I don’t like to leave my comfort zone,” OR, “I will leave my comfort zone on occasion,” OR, “I like to leave my comfort zone.” And as you can see in the chart below, top executives are 91% more likely to enjoy leaving their comfort zone.

As you might imagine, a small percentage of people (27%) like to leave their comfort zone. But the real change management challenge appears when we break-out the data by position: 

As you can see, frontline employees generally do NOT like to leave their comfort zone (22%). But top executives DO like to leave their comfort zone (42%). And that creates a palpable tension in many organizations.  If executives like to leave their comfort zone, they’re going to push for changes that are big and bold. And that’s going to create even more resistance to change on the part of their employees. 

video breakdown of the study

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