The Professor is In: Book Remarks
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Book Remarks is a new feature intended to highlight the College's Points of Pride, showcasing books penned by the outstanding faculty and staff in the College of Business.
It is intended to be a brief post of an interesting or noteworthy excerpt from a book authored by College of Business faculty or staff, along with a bit of commentary to provide some context.
In today’s selection…
from Engaging Resistance: How Ordinary People Successfully Champion Change, by Aaron Anderson, director of strategic organizational initiatives.
“My research suggests that quality leadership, and more importantly, change champions are critical for solving what ails our enterprise. And, champions can emerge from any layer of the operation from the rank-and-file on up to the top of the institution. When it comes to leading change in our institutions, the grass roots are equally important as those occupying the tip of the Ivory Tower (as if that genuinely exists in this day-and-age).
“The advice for people who either step up or are thrust forward to champion change or more challenging transformation is that you must think of yourself and your initiatives as the virus threatening the corpus rather than the inoculation necessary to save the institution. In many respects, if you don’t get resistance, you are not changing. Resistance is like the white blood cells attacking your virus, and a necessary part of the whole functioning organism. If engaged with the right combination of approaches, resistance and resisters can help strengthen the overall end result by improving both the process and the product.”
In his classic encapsulation of the sensemaking conundrum at the microbehavioral level, Weick is famous for asking, “How do I know what I think until I see what I say” (personal communication, September 1998)? We may be able to capture the essence of resistance to organizational change and transformation by adding three words to that query thusly: How do I know what I think until I see what I say about your actions? If organizational life consists of a set of interrelated, improvised actions and reactions—the classic Weickian (1979) double interact—which we make sense of and use to determine our next moves, it may be best to conceptualize resistance as an organic response or reaction to change agency rather than as rudimentary behavior that is invariably negative and inherently damaging to change efforts (Burke, 2008; Ford, Ford, and D’Amelio, 2008; Piderit, 2000; van Dijk and van Dijk, 2009; Waddell and Sohal, 1998; Weick, 1979). This is indicated by the dashed lines that go through rather than around the resistance triangle in Exhibit 2.
Traditionally, resistance to organizational change has been thought of as something to be anticipated, minimized, and quashed (Ford and Ford, 2008; Hultman, 1998; Piderit, 2000; Waddell and Sohal, 1998). Fortunately, at the close of the previous millennium, some scholars were questioning the dominant conceptualization by recommending a positive approach to understanding resistance (e.g., Waddell and Sohal, 1998; Piderit, 2000). Waddell and Sohal (1998) suggest that thinking of resistance as only doing harm is misguided at best, and possibly detrimental to a full understanding of organizational life. On the continuum of possible responses to change, resistance behavior is just one of the many identifiable reactions, from completely supportive to vehemently against (Burke, 2008; de Caluwé and Vermaak, 2003).
Piderit (2000) helps us all the way around the theoretical corner by strongly suggesting that the old paradigm for understanding resistance is flawed.
Scholars and practitioners should better view resistance as integral and possibly helpful to every change effort. Others since Piderit have dedicated themselves to carving out new understanding about resistance from this positive conceptualization (e.g., Burke, 2008; Ford et al., 2002, 2008; Ford and Ford, 2009; Goltz and Hietapelto, 2002).
Because the literature had not turned this theoretical corner at the time I finalized the design and executed my study, the research that serves as the basis for this book may be imperfect. However, to paraphrase former U.S. secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld, we all conduct research with the theory we have, not the theory we wish we had. There is, however, an enticing synchronicity between my findings and this new theoretical direction. Perhaps my colleagues and I wrestled identical theory demons at precisely the same time. My hope is that the model building in the later chapters will fill in many of the gaps identified by those writing in the field at the start of this millennium.
Author: Aaron D. Anderson, Director of Strategic Organizational Initiatives at San Francisco State University
Title: Engaging Resistance: How Ordinary People Successfully Champion Change
Publisher: Stanford Business Books