New and unimproved: A resistance to change in Mexican business

articles Business

Ilya Adler

“The problem in Mexico is that workers, and generally speaking all people, resist change.” This was the opinion expressed to me recently by a successful (at least, rich) entrepreneur in Mexico City. Because of this resistance, he says, “Mexico will continue to be behind the developed economies.”

In his own experience, he finds it impossible to make overdue changes in his company. It’s important to examine this assumption, so common in Mexico. It is, of course, not unique to Mexico. In the U.S. as well, managers often assume that people resist change, and knowing this is important for any manager who wants things done in a new way. We need to determine the extent to which people indeed resist change, and whether resisting change is in fact an unhealthy attitude. In the first place, people in Mexico, and elsewhere, don’t resist change in and of itself. What makes people uncomfortable is uncertainty. The human condition is such that we strive to reduce doubt in our lives.

Because change often brings with it a lot of uncertainty, most people think of the potential consequences and become concerned. Will this change affect my job? Will it demand more from me? Will it eliminate my job? Until people know the effects of change on their lives, they will resist it. Until their concerns are addressed, their uncertainty will linger, and thus resistance.

When I face managers in companies everywhere, I ask them to tell me the last time they heard someone resisting any of the following changes: longer vacations, flextime, higher salaries, more insurance coverage, child-care centers in the workplace, and so on. All of these are changes too, but since they clearly provide an added advantage, employees are less likely to react.

Nafta is producing important changes in all three of its member countries. Resistance to the trade treaty can be found among numerous business sectors, both in Mexico and in its two neighbors to the north. Those who wholeheartedly support Nafta, and generally freer trade among nations, should not dismiss such sentiment as simply foolish or short-sighted. When industries are hurt by Nafta, their resistance is not foolish. It is simply common sense, and yes, common business sense. The idea that the business world supports free trade is one of the many fallacies we have been taught. Some businesses do support a free-trade philosophy, but not surprisingly, they are usually those who would surely benefit from this environment: large multinational companies that operate on a truly global scale. But the tomato grower in Florida, the avocado grower in California, the broom manufacturer in Illinois hardly see how Nafta will make their day, and they are concerned about their business future. In Mexico, those in the poultry business and office furniture manufacturers are equally concerned. Illogical? Hardly.

And if this is the behavior of the rational business world, why should we find it so strange that a low-skilled worker in Mexico should feel threatened by automation, by new technologies requiring skills he or she doesn’t have?

The implication is obvious: Explain how a proposed change will not, in fact, adversely affect workers’ futures, and that your company will provide for all the needed training so they’ll be able to keep working. This will reduce their very logical uncertainties, and make them allies for a change. But if this is a promise than can neither be made nor kept, accept resistance as the most rational of all human behaviors.

Published or Updated on: September 1, 1998 by Ilya Adler © 1998
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