The term resistance arises often in the context of organizational change. We — and especially "change agents" — use it to describe something commonly called pushback. As a term, resistance is revealing, and its use signals a problem deep inside us, in our mental model of how change works. When we understand the term better, we handle change better.
Resistance is a loaded word. It carries with it the perspective of the change agent. Resistance is what the change agent encounters when change first begins to come into view as a real possibility. The term is inherently adversarial, because the "resistors" don't view themselves as resisting change, while the change agent does. From the resistors' perspective, they're just trying to hang on to a world they know and accept. Resistance is also pejorative, because it denigrates the people who "resist."
An adversarial, superior attitude is certainly not helpful to a change agent. Even though the change agent espouses a more collaborative approach, the use of the term resistance suggests the possibility of a deeper, less constructive position. People can pick this up, whether it's real or not, and when they do, their resentment of the change agent deepens.
I prefer a different name for the tendency of existing systems to keep doing what they've been doing. I call it active persistence — a less loaded, more positive term. Active persistence is the behavior that expresses attachment to things as they have been. When we think of it in this way, we gain some useful insights.
- From the point of view of change agents, active persistence is a good thing. Active Persistence
is a less loaded
term for the
tendency to cling
to the old wayIt means that change has progressed so far that people feel the need to express attachment to what was.
- When active persistence couples to anger and cynicism, it's likely that we've failed to honor the value of what is and what has been.
- "Clean sheet" approaches are more likely to couple active persistence to anger and cynicism because they do so much more dishonor to what is and what has been.
- People who engage in active persistence aren't so much opposing the new as they are expressing attachment to what is.
- Active persistence helps us ensure that we don't act too hastily.
To keep active persistence decoupled from anger and cynicism, honor what is. Express your appreciation for how well the status quo worked in the past.
When you take this approach from the outset, you'll find two rewards. First, you'll be doing what you can to limit anger and cynicism, even though you'll still see some active persistence. When you deal with it directly, by engaging in dialog about what must change and why, you'll find your second reward. Your own views will change — for the better. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Organizational Change:
- Look Before You Leap
- When we execute complex organizational change, we sometimes create disasters. It's ironic that even
in companies that test their products thoroughly, we rarely test organizational changes before we "roll
them out." We need systematic methods for discovering problems before we execute change efforts.
One approach that works well is the simulation.
- Change How You Change
- In the past two years, your life has probably changed. Do you commute over the same route you did two
years ago? Same transportation? Same job? Same company? Same industry? Change is all around, and you're
probably pretty skilled at it. You can become even more skilled if you change how you change.
- Good Change, Bad Change: II
- When we distinguish good change from bad, we often get it wrong: we favor things that would harm us,
and shun things that would help. When we do get it wrong, we're sometimes misled by social factors.
- When Change Is Hard: I
- Sometimes changing organizations goes smoothly. More often, it doesn't. Whatever methodology we use
— and there are many methodologies available — difficulties can arise. When change is hard,
what's happening? What makes change hard?
- When Change Is Hard: II
- When organizational change is difficult, we sometimes blame poor leadership or "resistance."
But even when we believe we have good leadership and the most cooperative populations, we can still
encounter trouble. Why is change so hard so often?
See also Organizational Change for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming September 27: On Working Breaks in Meetings
- When we convene a meeting to work a problem, we sometimes find that progress is stalled. Taking a break to allow a subgroup to work part of the problem can be key to finding simple, elegant solutions rapidly. Choosing the subgroup is only the first step. Available here and by RSS on September 27.
- And on October 4: Self-Importance and Conversational Narcissism at Work: I
- Conversational narcissism is a set of behaviors that participants use to focus the exchange on their own self-interest rather than the shared objective. This post emphasizes the role of these behaviors in advancing a narcissist's sense of self-importance. Available here and by RSS on October 4.
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