Resistance to Digital Transformation: The Role of Middle Management Personal Networks




digital platforms, blat, readiness for organizational change, employee resistance, innovation


This paper studies the digital transformation process of one of Russia’s largest freight forwarding companies that was met with resistance from its middle management which put the entire change process in jeopardy. With the move to a digital platform business, the middle management had to follow enterprise-wide rules imposed by the underlying information system. Preferred treatment of hauliers as established by regional managers were no longer possible and it was this loss of autonomy that stood at the core of resistance among the firm’s middle management. The practice of such extra organizational networks is described in Russian bz the term ‘blat’. The blat originated during the Soviet Union and described a system of personal favors that ensured the functioning of society in times of scarcity. The paper describes eight instances of middle managers’ resistance who resisted the organisational change. Data was collected through interviews and document studies.

We describe the circumstances that triggered resistance behaviour of each middle manager through their own words, the viewpoint of project managers and the company’s top management. Our findings describe how individual resistance was overcome and – in many instances – converted into support for the change agenda. The original value of our paper is that the company overcame the resistance and successfully implemented its change agenda and entered a period of economic growth. Although the change process had to overcome many obstacles, the result proved economically very successful. Today, the company is one of the top transportation firms in Russia.