Visions of Change as Visions of Continuity
A common thought is that visionary leadership is needed to gain support for organizational change. First, you explain what is wrong with the current situation. Then you explain how the intended change will lead to a better and more attractive future. This is how leaders can overcome resistance to change is a common thought. But the reality is more stubborn. Research by Daan Knippenberg, Merlin Venus and Daan Stam shows that there is an important caveat to this.
Indeed, a deep-seated cause of resistance to change is that employees identify with and care about the organization they work for. People fear that after the change, the organization will no longer be the one they value and identify with. The greater the uncertainty surrounding the change, the more they anticipate threats to the cherished organizational identity. Change management that emphasizes what is good about the intended change and what is bad about the current situation often feeds these fears because it indicates that the changes will be fundamental and far-reaching.
Counter-intuitively, then, effective change management must emphasize continuity, or in other words, how that which is essential to “who we are” as an organization will be maintained despite uncertainty and change ahead.
The researchers tested this concept in two studies. Both studies showed that leaders build more support for the intended change when an attractive vision of change is communicated in conjunction with a vision of continuity of the organization’s identity.
Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 62, No. 3 – 2019.
Go to this research
The full study is available for a fee on the Academy of Management Journal website.