Personal Finance

Why employees, managers fight against solutions


Ndegwa paced back and forth in his office. The warm Nairobi sunshine shone through the window and illuminated the space.

As the smell of his morning chai wafted up from his desk and the birds chirped in the tree down below his open window, Ndegwa overlooked the simple pleasures of his tactician, auditory, and olfactory senses.

He nervously awaited the department meeting scheduled for later that morning at 11 am.

As a result of Covid-19 and mandatory changes by the Ministry of Education, Ndegwa’s group of schools, where he served as a headteacher in one of the sites, had earlier announced an impending restructuring.

Some solutions mentioned in the email notice included fewer departments, fewer leave days, and larger class sizes.

When 11 am finally reached, Ndegwa and his colleagues painfully, emphatically, and strenuously agitated against recognising coronavirus-induced issues or ministry problems even existed. They seemed to deny the obvious.

The group of schools’ chairwoman peered out exacerbated at her team and could not understand the logic and reasoning behind Ndegwa’s resistance.

Many Business Daily readers can relate to the chairwoman’s shock as we observe some of our colleagues. But why are large groups of people so averse to change and fixing problems in society, families, and businesses? Many often hypothesize that the resistance issue lies in not recognising or accepting the problem itself.

Assumptions abound that such individuals are averse to scientific or data-driven proof. Proverbially, one could be given unimpeachable evidence but find holes and conspiracies within the proof.

However, research from Troy Campbell and Aaron Kay found that many people once thought to oppose change are not denying and ignoring that a problem or problems exists specifically, but rather they are rebelling against the very solutions recommended and prescribed to remedy and fix the problem.

‘Solution aversion’

The researchers deemed the concept ‘solution aversion’. Solution aversion applies in political contexts such as some Republicans in the United States who fight against climate change solutions.

Political pundits previously theorised that the root of Republican opposition stemmed from not accepting the problem and disbelieving the science that shows that the issue existed at all.

But in a series of experiments, the researchers found that much of the problem actually originated from their opposition to perceived solutions such as less opportunity for environmentally friendly jobs or inability to eat meat if environmental curbs and restrictions would get put in place.

Similar political scenarios can play out with Brexiteers’ abhorrence of the European Union. But the research also proves useful within organisations such as understanding and then addressing those against change initiatives, creativity, and innovation, like in the above example.

In fighting to halt change, employees may appear to challenge whether certain problems even exist but all the while they really know deep down that the challenges surely survive and maybe thrive, but their real deep psychological issue involves trepidation around potential fixes, clarifications, and resolutions to the problems.

But why do some employees and managers push back against solutions? Many fear potential implications for them. They might have reached their current roles in the organisation through a narrow pathway and do not hold a commensurate diversity of skills and competencies that could warrant them retaining employment or status in a changed firm.

While others could distress over the uncertainty from a loss of personal organisational networks if there are shifts in departments and reporting lines. Still, others might dread losing profitable nefarious kickbacks and corrupt deals permeating under the surface of the entity.

Can an executive reduce change resistance?

Upon presenting data-driven evidence, do not over-focus on the problem and instead have staff involved in envisioning a more preferred organisational future instead of top-down forced concepts of the future.

Consult and involve a wide array of internal stakeholders in solution planning. Make creativity and innovation bottom-up in your organisation. Then, employee resistance to the solution will reduce and change more readily accepted.

Dr Scott may be reached on [email protected] or on Twitter: @ScottProfessor