The Impact of Cognitive Flexibility on Resistance to Organizational Change

Article excerpt

As advances in information technology have expedited globalization in many contexts, businesses have become unable to avoid the impact of global economic growth or slowdown. Owing to recent changes in the global economic environment, businesses faced with increasingly challenging conditions have had to adopt measures that involve internal organizational change, such as organizational downsizing. However, these measures on which businesses rely for survival may not be effectively or successfully carried out if there is resistance from employees. Employees with certain personality traits may be more inclined to resist or accept organizational change. Therefore, one's personality traits influence both his or her attitude toward organizational change (Oreg, 2003), and coping with stress from organizational change (Liao, Fan, & Wang, 2002) is an important issue worth investigating (Canas, Quesada, Antoli, & Fajardo, 2003; Oreg, 2006).

Most previous researchers of employee attitudes toward organizational change from the perspective of personality traits have based their studies on the Big Five model (Organ, 1994). In this study we investigated this issue using cognitive personality traits, namely cognitive flexibility, insight, and self-reflection. The cognitive personality traits and the Big Five personality traits theoretically share many similarities. Researchers have indicated that openness to experience is positively related to self-reflection (Lyke, 2009), neuroticism is negatively related to insight (Grant, Franklin, & Langford, 2002), conscientiousness is positively related to insight, and both extraversion and agreeableness are positively related to cognitive flexibility (Martin & Rubin, 1995). So far, the effects of personality traits on attitudes toward organizational change have not been investigated from a cognitive psychology perspective. We examined the relationship between the three variables, that is, cognitive flexibility, insight, and self-reflection, and their effects on attitudes toward organizational change. We expected, through an analysis of empirical findings, to provide a foundation for assessing the effectiveness of organizational change management and also some suggestions for future research.

Literature Review and Hypotheses

Personality Traits

It has been documented by previous researchers of the effects of personality traits on behavior and attitude, that private self-consciousness is an important factor that explains change in individual behavior (Carver & Scheier, 1998). Self-reflection and insight are metacognitive factors in private self-consciousness that are central to the process of change (Grant et al., 2002, pp. 821-822) and goal attainment and self-regulatory processes demand cognitive flexibility (Grant et al., 2002, p. 824). However, the relationship between these personality traits has not been established in previous studies.

According to Martin and Rubin (1995), cognitive flexibility refers to a person's (a) awareness that in any given situation there are options and alternatives available, (b) willingness to be flexible and adapt to the situation, and (c) self-efficacy in being flexible. People who are cognitively flexible are able to determine ways to adapt to given situations through the process of social cognition. In general, people who can find alternative ways to be flexible in any given situation are more cognitively flexible than those who know only one way to be flexible in the situation (Roloff & Berger, 1982).

A person's willingness to be flexible and adapt to a situation is associated with internal state awareness (Fenigstein, Scheier, & Buss, 1975; Richmond & McCroskey, 1989). Martin and Rubin (1995) referred to internal state awareness as insight, describing it as the ability to clearly understand personal thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Internal state awareness and insight are connected to the ability to identify and express personal feelings (Grant et al. …