Organisational development and Change management have been at the helm of management research for many decades. According to Brown and Harvey (2005), organisational development and change management are intertwined as the former depends upon the latter. Dent and Goldberg (1999) state that the first step in creating change is recognising the need for change and getting ready to give up the status quo. However this could be the most difficult step for many organisations (Coch and French, 1948). This brief essay analyses the most significant resistances to change of King Abdulaziz University (KAAU) located in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. KAAU is the oldest and the largest university in Saudi Arabia and inculcates graduate, postgraduate and doctoral education to the students.
2. Resistances to Change
2.1. Tradition and Cultural Values
One of the most important and biggest strengths of KAAU could be its long legacy and deep relationship with the traditional values of the region. Unfortunately, this legacy of KAAU has, to some extent, become one of the major resistances to change. Cummings and Worley (2008) state that national culture exerts a major influence upon the corporate culture of an organisation. There are some cultural aspects of Middle East which are not conducive to the growth of an organisation. To cite an instance, KAAU finds it difficult to freely delegate authority to women employees in the University. This is associated with the cultural aspect of the region (Ali and Al-Shakhis, 1989). However, today, the most important objective of any organisation should be to utilise its available resources to the fullest extent possible (Rees and Shrifi, 2002). Not delegating important responsibilities to women staff turns into one of the major impediments to growth because of underutilisation of resources. As this aspect of culture is closely knitted with the society, this is a major resistance to change at KAAU. This resistance also limits the ability of the University to welcome female professors from Western countries and to utilise them as sources of knowledge.
Before the discovery of crude oil Saudi Arabia had remained a tribal society thriving in hostile environment. Because of the extreme conditions in the environment, the society had naturally developed very close degree of coordination and interdependence among the members of the society. Today, Saudi Arabia is one of the fastest growing states in the Middle East fuelled by petro-Dollars. However, organisations such as KAAU still retain a fair level of tribalism wherein they tend to favour the members of their society over the outsiders. Even though the University has a number of immigrants who are part of the staff, the administration and management tend to favour the locals among the staff. For any organisation to change, it is necessary for the management team to be receptive to progressive thoughts and ideas (Lipton, 1999). However, the closed nature of the University acts as a major resistance to change in the age-old processes and procedures which are still followed within the University. Besides, “Saudi managers give priority to friendships and personal considerations over organizational goals and performance” (Hunt and At-Twaijri, 1996; p. 48) which is another aspect derived from the nomadic culture of the society.
2.3. Hierarchical Organisational Structure
One of the cultural aspects of the Middle East region is the hierarchical nature of authority found in every small unit of the society (Choudhury and Al-Sakran, 2001). This is found in organisations such as KAAU as well. The management is considered the be-all and end-all of decision making and there are multitudes of layers built under the management. The members avoid and frown upon any attempt to cut across levels of authority. This is a major hindrance to change as change management requires dynamism and participation of employees from all levels of the organisation (De Vries and Miller, 1984). Not paying heed to the lower level employees could be a major problem for the management as it could create conflicts with the organisation. It is also observed that the management follows an autocratic leadership style and makes seldom involvement of the senior staff into discussions. Any change management programme first requires the management team members to recognise the need for change (French and Bell, 1999). Not interacting with the actual staff of the University makes it very difficult for the management members to even become conscious of the need to change.
2.4. Limitations of Human Resources
One of the major resistances to change emanates from the University’s inability to find suitable and dynamic human resources. Kotter and Schlesinger (1979) state that an employee can also become a change agent. Even a single employee can create dynamism in a static environment and make the team members realise the need to change. However, in the case of KAAU, the limited availability of dynamic human resources is a major problem. This has already developed into a resistance to change. However this resistance can be broken down by KAAU if the University could attract talent from outside the country (Madhi and Barrientos, 2003). It is evident that the appeal of KAAU to highly qualified expatriate employees could be quite limited because of the organisation’s hierarchical authority structure, favouritism towards locals, autocratic leadership style etc. Therefore, this resistance to change imposed upon KAAU by the dearth of human resources is stronger than the other resistances which are totally within the control of the organisation.
2.5. Lack of Compatibility between Academic Staff and Administration Staff
One of the requirements of a successful organisation is the integration and synchronised functioning of the different departments (Brooks, 2009). At KAAU, there is lack of compatibility between the ambitious academic staff and bureaucratic administrative staff. While most of the academic staff have strategic plans and aspirations, some of which could be exaggerated, the administrative staff who are expected to support the process of knowledge creation and dissemination are constrained by bureaucratic frictions such as belatedness at work, irregularities in fulfilling duties etc. As the faculty members of the University have varied interests and specialisations, it is the duty of the administration and management to ensure that the students derive the maximum benefits through appropriate deployment of faculty resources. The bureaucratic frictions and laid-back nature in the administration and management of the University do not allow this process to take place as intended. In this regard, reference could be made to the work by Khassawneh (2005) who, in his study of bureaucratic organisations, states that lack of employees’ participation and lack of clarity in goals are major resistances to change.
Change management is a necessary part for organisational development. However, organisations face significant resistances to change in different forms. For the Saudi-based University – KAAU, the major resistances to change are in the form of its inability to adopt modern values which are distinct from the cultural values of the domestic society, practice of tribalism and existence of closed groups which favour locals and discriminate against expatriate employees, highly hierarchical authority structure coupled with autocratic leadership, limited availability of high quality human resources and gap between theories and applications within the university.