One of the most baffling and recalcitrant of the problems which business executives face is employee resistance to change. Such resistance may take a number of forms—persistent reduction in output, increase in the number of “quits” and requests for transfer, chronic quarrels, sullen hostility, wildcat or slowdown strikes, and, of course, the expression of a lot of pseudo logical reasons why the change will not work. Even the more petty forms of this resistance can be troublesome.
All too often when executives encounter resistance to change, they “explain” it by quoting the cliché that “people resist change” and never look further. Yet changes must continually occur in industry. This applies with particular force to the all-important “little” changes that constantly take place—changes in work methods, in routine office procedures, in the location of a machine or a desk, in personnel assignments and job titles.
No one of these changes makes the headlines, but in total they account for much of our increase in productivity. They are not the spectacular once-in-a-lifetime technological revolutions that involve mass layoffs or the obsolescence of traditional skills, but they are vital to business progress.
Does it follow, therefore, that business management is forever saddled with the onerous job of “forcing” change down the throats of resistant people? My answer is no. It is the thesis of this article that people do not resist technical change as such and that most of the resistance which does occur is unnecessary.