A large body of research shows that there is an inverse link between empowerment and resistance to change. More empowerment yields less resistance. Did the employees feel empowered? Did they feel less resistant to change? The research is very quiet on outcomes though. How successful were these changes?
How Does Empowerment Impact Freedom of Choice?
On the flip side, there is another large body of research. It shows that the more freedom people have the more likely they will do more of the same. For instance, when freely able to choose music, they will tend to go with what they heard before or new stuff very similar to it.
This means that at some point empowerment and resistance to change go hand in hand. More empowerment brings more resistance.
Take a manager. Will he change his style to move change forward? Or, will he use the same style that helped him manage the status quo? Now, multiply these little decisions throughout the organization for each employee. The result is innocent resistance.
In the end, it’s hard to effect change when we apply the same approaches, skills and thinking. This is how change becomes more of the same in a different shade. Yes, there is no resistance. At what cost though?
Avoiding the Linking of Empowerment and Resistance to Change
To avoid this point where empowerment and resistance to change link, we need to challenge our people. That might mean taking away some empowerment.
We will need to move them outside their comfort zones. That means encouraging and supporting them. Yes, we might even need to tell them what to do.
All the while, we will need to remember that each employee responds differently to empowerment, to the freedom to choose. To some more freedom is a breath of fresh air. To others it’s disorder.
Many times employees cynically see empowerment as a covert way to pass blame downward. In these times, managers could say:
If it doesn’t work, blame me. If it does, you’ll get the credit.
This works very well. When they trust and respect their bosses, very few are cavalier about letting them down. It’s hard for managers to believe, but many employees are motivated by their approval.
Boiling this down, empowerment still needs managing. Otherwise, empowerment and resistance to change go hand in hand. In effect, employees are empowered to stay in their comfort zones.
Thus, that might mean telling employees what to do . . . so they can see what they can do . . . when they think they can’t do it.