University of Oulu

Resistance to resistance in digital transformation of an incumbent company

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Author: Poikkimäki, Petrus1
Organizations: 1University of Oulu, Oulu Business School, Department of Management and International Business, Management
Format: ebook
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 1 MB)
Pages: 104
Persistent link:
Language: English
Published: Oulu : P. Poikkimäki, 2023
Publish Date: 2023-05-16
Thesis type: Master's thesis
Tutor: Myllykoski, Jenni
Reviewer: Myllykoski, Jenni
Laari-Salmela, Sari


This thesis studies resistance to resistance in the context of digital transformation. First, literature review of the most suitable resistance and digital transformation studies are covered. Second, a single case study of a Finnish incumbent financial services company is covered. Data of the empirical part of this study consists of semi-structured theme interviews. Three main themes and ten subthemes related to resistance to resistance in digital transformation were found from the data. These subthemes show what influences different responses to resistance have had on the case company’s digital transformation. The main finding is that resistance to resistance seems to have been in connection to innovation capabilities of the case company. The second contribution of this thesis is that studying resistance brought up social aspects of digital transformation more visible.

Resistance as a research area has gained newly developed interest during the previous decades. One emerging issue is resistance to resistance which refers to change agents’ resistance towards change recipients’ resistance. Many studies have proven that change agents’ defensive response to resistance often preclude productive and positive aspects of resistance. This study shows that resistance can be used as a resource to manage change, and that resistance is not always something to be overcome. However, this study also shows that what responses change agents or managers give depends on the nature of the resistance they are responding to. In the case company it was common to try to use resistance as a developmental interactional practice. However, resistance was rarely facilitated truly or used proactively and intentionally as a source of positive change. Jobs are specializing at a fast pace and organizations are changing towards expert organizations. For example, this study presents how previously simple customer service has changed to a more demanding expert work that leverages sophisticated technologies. This change in the late capitalistic context is one major reason why it is increasingly harder to plan and implement change. Sometimes managers have little knowledge about what and how change should be done. This change in the context is also the aspect that ties resistance and digital transformation together.

Digital transformation in turn refers to the widest form of digital change. Digital transformation includes digitization and digitalization, but what makes it different is that it includes changes in multiple processes, departments, and functions in an organization. In addition to technical and organizational changes, digital transformation is also a socio-cultural change. This study proposes a new framework to conceptualize digital transformation which includes a key addition of social dynamics. These social dynamics were proven to be the bottleneck of DT in many situations in the case company.

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Copyright information: © Petrus Poikkimäki, 2023. Except otherwise noted, the reuse of this document is authorised under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC-BY 4.0) licence ( This means that reuse is allowed provided appropriate credit is given and any changes are indicated. For any use or reproduction of elements that are not owned by the author(s), permission may need to be directly from the respective right holders.