In the book: 'Participate for a Change' that I have recently written I am compelled to conclude that
'... despite all the theory that supports a 'participative' style of change, the temptation is always to impose change. Managers see the urgency and the impending external key drivers and their reaction is to make change happen. Often the workforce is seen as an obstacle to change. They anticipate resistance and indeed many of the change models predict that resistance. In 2010 in the UK several very large organisations such as British Airways and the Royal Mail face the need to make radical changes to the way they operate if they are to remain competitive. To date the workforce has been resistant, even hostile, to changes in their working practices and there has been a breakdown in relations between management and the Unions. As Facilitators and change agents we need to be aware of the potential for resistance to change and be ready to forestall it with effective participatory activity. Nevertheless it is important to face head on the question of when to impose change and when to engage in a participative process. It is also important to see the consequences of both approaches and recognise the advantages and disadvantages of both.
If the workforce has a high vested interest in the status quo then management has to decide whether the risk to the business is so serious that it cannot afford to engage them in the change process. However, the consequences of not engaging the workforce can be even more disruptive to the business than the external threat. Faced with imposed change workers/employees often withdraw their emotional support for the organisation and as a result their input, positive contribution and enthusiasm reduces, which in itself can be as harmful as the external threat. If there is a high vested interest in the status quo and a high risk to the survival of the business then management may choose to drive change through. However, the aim should always be to engage the workforce in the change process because even if it is slower in the beginning, it will be more productive and reduce resistance in the long run.