Psychologist of Work and Organizations

Managing and evaluating conflicts during the organizational change

Change is an inevitable part of organizational life and often it leads to conflicts inside the organization and amongst its members.

How is it possible to effectively manage a process of change? How can we deal with the conflicts generated by the organizational change?
First of all, it would be useful to approach the organization as a system, instead of focusing the attention only on a part of it, a “whole” composed of different groups or individuals. Each of them can contribute to the process of change or, on the other hand, to hinder it, depending on each person’s perception.
For this reason, the first step of every process of change management should be an accurate analysis of the stakeholders and their perception of the change. With the term “stakeholder”, accordingly with the Freeman’s definition we intend every person, or group of people, who can affect or is affected by the achievements of the organisational goals.
Often we forget that people in the organizations (but it’s possible to state the same thing for every day life), need a reason, better if it’s a good one, to accept and embrace a change.

So, when an organization starts a process of innovation, there are some fundamental questions that should be answered: who is affected by the change? What is her/his/their representation of the change? Do we explain to them what kind of change we are pursuing and in which way it will modify their life, their job, the workplace relationships? And, overall, do we give them a good, valuable reason for accepting the change and supporting it?
We should discuss changes with the stakeholders, to understand clearly their point of view and debate the pros and cons of the innovation. If we forget to involve the stakeholders in this important step, we involuntarily inoculate the germs of conflict inside the organization.
Participants only vaguely aware of the change process generally react negatively to it. They try to find out, by themselves, the information they lack to complete the whole picture. The scuttlebutt is often nothing more than an inappropriate reaction to this absence of information.
Other reactions aroused by a partial understanding of the change, that can deeply hinder the process of innovation, are the emotional ones: anxiety and fear of the new are the most common.
Lack of information about what happens in the organization tends, for these reasons, to generate resistance from the stakeholders, that can delay or hinder the whole process.
On the other hand, to recognize the problem and to try to dig into these representations and the emotions that they generate, can supply a vast amount of information to correct and better manage the entire process.
A detailed knowledge of the reasons that arouse resistance and conflicts is a fundamental tool that should be correctly used by the management

To summarize, we can say that every process of change management should find a clear answer to the following questions:
who is involved?
Why should they embrace the change?
Did we communicate clearly to them the goals and implications of the proposed change?
Are we actively managing the anxiety that the change arouse?

When we became aware that the change is facing some resistance, we should find answers to another set of questions:
who is resisting?
Why are they resisting?
Do we actively collect information about these issues?

Briefly, it’s possible to list some of the most common factors that cause resistance in a process of organizational change.
In general, resistance is generated by a lack of:
information about the process and its implications;
support from the management or, in general, from the organization;
skills or training to correctly perform the new tasks;
trust in the management or in the whole organization and its objectives;
clear goals (e.g.: too many changes faced in the recent past; previous contradictory decisions taken by the management).