Overcoming Resistance to Organizational Change: Strong Ties and Affective Cooptation
Publication Year: 2013
Journal: Management Science
Categories: Organizational Change
Despite the fact that many research has been performed into change management, few attention has been devoted to the role of a change agent’s intraorganizational network in overcoming resistance to organizational change. This intraorganizational network might be important in addressing resistance to organizational change and, as such, persuading organization members to adopt proposed changes. Battilana and Casciaro recognize this gap and aim to address it in their article by developing a theory of how the intraorganizational network might be leveraged to facilitate organizational change. This theory subsequently allows us to gain a deeper insight into how change unfolds in organizations. The foundation of the research is the strength of ties between actors, with a specific focus on strong ties. Such ties describe the affective bond between actors and specifically the trust that actors have in each other. A strong tie can thus be described as the existence of a large amount of trust between two actors. The researchers argue that strong ties are beneficial in overcoming resistance to organizational change. Strong ties can increase the ability of the change agent to introduce organizational change by providing the change agent with an affective basis for the cooptation of actors capable of negatively influencing the outcome of a change initiative. Cooptation can be described as a relational strategy in which the neutralization or conversion of those with the potential to threaten an actor’s goal is based on the emotional bond between individuals. A strong tie, and thus a strong emotional bond, to an actor thus forms the basis for coopting that actor. According to the authors there are two types of opponents at any change initiative: fence-sitters and resistors. Fence-sitters have both positive and negative attitudes towards a change whereas resistors have outright negative attitudes towards a change. The authors argue that the effect of the change agent’s strong ties on the adaption of the change is different for both types of opponents. In case of a strong tie with a fence-sitter, it is likely that cooptation will result in the adaption of the change due to the fact that the fence-sitter recognizes both the positive and negative effects of the change and, due to the strong tie, is less likely to let the change agent down. In case of a resistor, the effect on the adaption of the change depends on the degree to which the change diverges from institutionalized practices. The less the change diverges from the institutionalized practices, the more likely it is that cooptation will result in the adaption of the change due to the fact that the resistor, despite the negative attitude towards to change, does not want to disappoint the change agent, as they have a strong tie. The above stated hypotheses, about the effects of the change agent’s strong ties on the adaptation of change, were researched by performing a multimethod longitudinal study on 68 change initiatives. This study was conducted at the National Health Service in the United Kingdom. Analysis of the retrieved data confirmed the stated hypotheses and proved the robustness of the results.
With their article, Battilana and Casciaro deliver three major contributions to the work on organizational change. First, they provide theory and evidence of the effect of change agent’s strong ties with fence-sitters and resistors on change adoption. Secondly, they unify the individual and organizational levels of analysis of change by their examination of the influence of individual actors’ informal ties in organizational networks on the adaption of change. Lastly, they consider both the informal and formal position of a change agent in the organizational structure by specifying theoretically and documenting empirically the influence of network characteristics on a change agent’s ability to implement change in organizations.
The article chosen for this assignment globally relates to the topic of change management. More specifically the article focuses on how resistance to change in organizations can be overcome by leveraging the social ties that members of an organization have among each other. The adaptive cycle, which is a central topic in this course, describes how an organization transitions through an iterative cycle, composed of different phases, during its lifetime. According to the adaptive cycle four phases can be distinguished during a lifecycle of an organizations: exploitation, conservation, release and reorganization. Each of these phases can be mapped onto one of the four transitions that take place during the lifecycle of an organization:
- Exploitation: covers the transition from an organization trying out new combinations to figure out what works best to an organization that is growing at a fast rate and excels in what it is doing. This transition corresponds to the transition from the introduction to the growth phase in terms of the industry life cycle as discussed in Grant (2012).
- Conservation: covers the transition from an organization that is growing at a fast rate and excels in what it is doing to an organization that grows slower, conserves resources and is less flexible in responding to its environment through this conservation. This transition corresponds to the transition from the growth to the maturity phase in terms of the industry life cycle as discussed in Grant (2012).
- Release: covers the transition from an organization that grows slower, conserves resources and is less flexible in responding to its environment to an organization which is in a crisis and loses many of its conserved resources. This transition corresponds to the transition from the maturity to the decline phase in terms of the industry life cycle as discussed in Grant (2012).
- Reorganization: covers the transition from an organization which is in a crisis and loses many of its conserved resources to an organization attempting to recover from a crisis by trying out new combinations to figure out what works best. This transition corresponds to the transition from the decline to the introduction phase in terms of the industry life cycle as discussed in Grant (2012).
The transition of an organization from one state to another that comes with each phase implies that change occurs, in either one way or another, in order to facilitate the transition. Such a change might be either internal or external to the organization, meaning that the change either takes place in the organization or takes place in the environment in which the organization operates. Such an external change might, in turn, necessitate an internal change in order to respond properly to the change in the organization’s environment. Internal changes in an organization usually require change initiatives that are initiated by organizational members. In order to make sure that these change initiatives are adopted, the change agent needs to persuade organizational members, who resist the change, to make them support the change initiative. This is where the Battilana’s and Casciaro’s article comes in handy, as they make clear that resistance to change can be overcome by leveraging the strong ties of change agents with fence-sitters and, depending on the divergence of the change from the institutionalized practices, resistors.The theory developed by Battilana and Casciaro (2013) is relevant to the entire adaptive cycle, as each stage of the adaptive cycle necessitates change (an organization cannot transition without), which (almost) always results in internal change. Internal change on its turn (almost) always involves humans and (almost) always has resistors which thus paves the way for applying the theory developed by Battilana and Casciaro.
- Grant, R. M. (2012). The Industry Lifecycle. In Contemporary Strategy Analysis (ed. 8, p. 209-217). Chichester, West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.