What it is
In any reasonably complex change initiative, there is always a critical mass of people and groups that need to be wholly committed to the idea and provide the necessary time, money, and effort for the change to occur.
Resistance to change is a normal part of the change process and is inevitable. The Beckhard and Harris change formula is a deceptively simple yet extremely useful tool that helps managers identify and analyse the risk of resistance to change within a transformation initiative and thereby work to reduce it and secure commitment from any resistant parties.
In their book "Organizational Transitions" (see Further reading), Beckhard and Harris identified that resistance within change initiatives is so prevalent that efforts should be made to manage it effectively. To this end, they developed their change formula, an evolution of some original work by Beckhard and David Gleicher in the 1960s, which provides a model to assess the factors affecting the likely success of organisational change programmes.
When to use it
- To analyse the likely success of a change initiative.
- At the commencement of a change initiative to identify possible areas of resistance.
- To identify resistant people and groups and work with them to reduce their resistance levels and secure commitment.
How to use it
The formula uses five simple factors and is written as follows:
C = Change
A = Level of dissatisfaction with the status quo
B = Desirability of the proposed change or end-state
D = Practicality of the change (minimal risk and disruption)
X = 'Cost' of changing
Factors A, B and D, must outweigh the perceived costs (X) for the change to be accomplished successfully.
If any person or group whose commitment is required for the initiative does not find themselves sufficiently dissatisfied with the current system (A), keen to achieve the proposed end-state (B) or convinced of the feasibility of the change (C), then the cost of change (X) for them will be too high, and they will be resistant.
The closer any one of the factors A, B or D is to zero, the more difficult it will be to overcome the resistance of that person or group.
The formula can be used with small groups or individuals, but it can also work well across whole departments, divisions or organisations. Analysis of the results will help a manager identify those requiring the most effort to counter their resistance. Some have found it worthwhile to repeat this activity periodically to analyse how perceptions change over time, which may give useful insight into strategy and planning.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
What if I encounter resistance to change?
Steps 1, 3 and 4 of Kotter's eight-step change model are particularly aimed at overcoming resistance within factors A (level of dissatisfaction with the status quo) and B (desirability of the proposed change or end-state) of Beckhard and Harris's change formula.
Be careful not to dismiss reasons for resistance without first assessing their validity. Organisational change programmes are often complex, and it is possible that important factors may have been missed by management.
Beckhard, R. and Harris, R. T. (1987) Organizational Transitions: Managing Complex Change, 2nd Edition. Boston, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Cady. S. H, Jacobs, R., Koller, R. and Spalding, J. (2014) The Change Formula: Myth, Legend, or Lore? OD Practitioner, 46(3) 32 - 39. Available from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/350917576_The_Change_Formula_Myth_Legend_or_Lore [accessed 27 August 2021].
Other useful resources
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