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:
- The Ties that Bind
- Changing anything in an organization reveals how it's connected to its people, to its processes, to
its facilities, and to the overall context. Usually, these connections reach out much further into the
organization than we imagine.
- Definitions of Insanity
- When leaders try to motivate organizational change, they often resort to clever sloganeering. One of
the most commonly used slogans is a definition of insanity. Unfortunately, that definition doesn't pass
the sanity test.
- Changing Blaming Cultures
- Culture change in organizations is always challenging, but changing a blaming culture presents special
difficulties. Here are three reasons why.
- Deciding to Change: Choosing
- When organizations decide to change what they do, the change sometimes requires that they change how
they make decisions, too. That part of the change is sometimes overlooked, in part, because it affects
most the people who make decisions. What can we do about this?
- The Passion-Professionalism Paradox
- Changing the direction of a group or a company requires passion and professionalism, two attributes
often in tension. Here's one possible way to resolve that tension.
See also Organizational Change for more related articles.
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