Hannan and Freeman (1984) argue that process losses are particularly large if the core of the organization, such as its work floor culture or set of objectives, is affected by the initial intervention – as this core defines the organization’s identity. Under such circumstances it is expected that process losses will be larger than content benefits. Hannan et al. argued that high-centrality changes (that is changes that touch on the core features of the organization) lead to longer cascades of change and by doing so increase the opportunity costs associated with the initial change. Organizational changes explicitly targeting core organizational features belong the most dangerous and demanding change endeavours:
P6. If organizational change only relates to peripheral features, which are less relevant for the organizational identity, the content benefits might well be larger than process losses and vice versa.
P7. Change that touches on the core of the organizational identity often weakens or even eliminates the potentially beneficial effects of this change.
A key moderator, or contingency, of the effect of organizational change processes is leadership (Romme and van Witteloostuijn, 1999). It is extremely hard, if not outright impossible, for organizational change to be successful without the willing and proactive engagement of the organization’s employees. This commitment cannot be taken for granted, however – employee resistance to change has often been cited as a primary cause of change failure (Argyris, 1990; Fiol, 2002). Yet, scholars increasingly challenge traditional perceptions of change resistance, which cast employees as stubborn saboteurs of smart change endeavours. Resistance to change should rather be seen as a warning for ensuing counterproductive change effects or threats to the organizational identity (Ford et al., 2008):
P8. Resistance to change can function as a warning signal of organizational identity threat, with important implications for change outcomes.
Leadership plays a key role in building the legitimacy of and commitment to the change process (Bass, 1985; Conger and Kanungo, 1987; Shamir et al., 1993):
Change acceptance cannot be enforced by decree, but senior police officers accustomed to leading police staff under “normal” circumstances might not necessarily be well equipped to explain the need for change and the consequences that may accompany such actions. In order to facilitate acceptance of attempts to restructure police organizations, ministries of the interior in several European countries started to spend significant time and effort in designing communication strategies, setting up information and participation campaigns, offering training courses, and/or installing web-based information channels. A sizeable number of police forces, however, still rely on the assumption that a clearly worded order usually suffices to explain the need for change and thus overcome any potential resistance (Santos and Santos, 2012).
Effective leadership anticipates the negative effect of an organizational change programme, whereas ineffective leadership fails to do so. Effective leadership will dampen the process losses, while ineffective leadership will make matters worse
(Conger and Kanungo, 1987). Leadership is, hence, directly connected to the issues of organizational change and identity. Organizational identity threats elicited by organizational change lie at the core of concerns regarding the legitimacy of change, also driving employee resistance, lack of involvement and weaker commitment to change processes (e.g. Van Knippenberg et al., 2008):
Neighbourhood policing in England was restructured quite dramatically around 2008 by extending some police powers to Special Constables and Police Community Support Officers in order to increase perceived security, let warranted police focus on higher levels of crime and improve the relationship between the police and the public. In addition to that, a “Policing Pledge” was issued, which was a ten-point commitment to the public and was signed up to by all 43 police forces in England and Wales in December 2008. It contained rather ambitious targets regarding the performance of police forces all over the country. The change was perceived by many police officers as a “seismic shift” affecting the role of police officers, their relationship with the community, their cooperation with external stakeholders and their day to day tasks. Many police officers who had for many years focused on fighting crime, dealing with suspects and victims, hadn’t “walked the beat” for decades and needed to readapt themselves to talk to “ordinary” citizens in order to improve their community presence. Leadership turned out to be a critical factor regarding the acceptance of this change, and an assessment by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary found that four out of every five police forces were falling short of the Policing Pledge promise. In July 2010, the new UK Government decided to abandon the Policing Pledge targets altogether in an attempt to give more local control to authorities (Bullock, 2010).
Threats to the continuity of organizational identity triggers resistance that stands in the way of successfully implementing the required changes. Sometimes the resistance is unable to stop the implementation but slows down the change process. Hannan et al. (2003a, b) argued that such change processes appear as if the moves were carried out in a high viscosity medium – every single step taking immense efforts and being slower and more costly than expected:
P9. Leadership can facilitate change processes by understanding reasons for local resistance and to translate the resistance into more adequate change implementation or adjustments to the change plan.
P10. Slowing down of organizational change processes due to resistance escalates opportunity costs. More managerial attention is needed to understand and address the resistance and little attention is left “to fly the plane”.
What would be required to prevent or overcome such perceptions and associated resistance is a clear message that the changes are internally driven (i.e. originate within the unit), and follow from, and are consistent with, the local unit’s mission and identity – or, in our unified theoretical framework’s terminology: are meant to restore fit. That is, when circumstances change, the way in which identity is enacted may change without the identity itself necessarily changing (Van Knippenberg et al., 2008). Or in other terms: sometimes organizations need to change to stay themselves: