When change is hard, we sometimes blame "resistors" — people who refuse to change. We say that they don't "get it" or that they're defending their current advantageous positions, or that they're fearful, or that a few troublemakers misled them. If we don't blame the resistors, we blame the planners of the change. They failed to account for various difficulties, or their plan was defective, or they had a good plan, but they failed to execute it.
Sometimes we blame both the planners and the resistors.
Certainly there are defective plans for change. Certainly there are people who are reluctant to change. But both of these analyses overlook three central features of change:
- People have human needs and human desires, and we must deal with people as people.
- Systems are complex. Our understanding of how they work and how their parts interrelate is probably imperfect.
- Changing systems sometimes requires following indirect paths. The shortest path isn't always effective.
Here are two examples of the application of these principles.
- We might be unaware of external constraints
- Difficulties can sometimes arise from external factors not directly related to the change itself. These factors can seem remote at first, until we actually experience them.
- For instance, trying to change a process the mastery of which is viewed as essential to high performance can create motivational problems, because people see their expertise as being questioned.
- The plan to change the process is effective from a process design point of view. And the people who were affected weren't resisting change — they're just applying their own understanding of what the organization values. Unless we deal with external constraints like these, change is hard.
- The desire for change has emotional foundations
- When we plan change, People have human needs and
human desires, and we must
deal with people as peoplewe tend to make plans that follow direct paths in process transformation space. But the space in which change actually takes place includes the feelings, knowledge, and attitudes of the people who must adapt. Direct orders to "adapt or else" do not work well at all.
- People need more than orders to adapt. This is especially true of those whose work depends on knowledge, skill, and relationships. Understanding why we're making a particular change does help, but it isn't enough either. Desire to change — positive desire to adapt — comes about only when people identify with their work and with the organization.
- A plan to communicate to people what the new regime will be, without seeking their support, isn't defective in itself. As a communication plan, it might be perfectly valid. And the people who choose not to support the changes aren't actually resisting it — they simply don't identify with it. When active support for change is missing, change is hard.
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More articles on Organizational Change:
- Plenty of Blame to Go Around
- You may have heard the phrase "plenty of blame to go around," or maybe you've even used it
yourself. Although it sometimes does bring an end to immediate finger pointing, it also validates blame
as a general approach. Here's how to end the blaming by looking ahead.
- 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.
- Comfortable Ignorance
- When we suddenly realize that what we've believed is wrong, or that what we've been doing won't work,
our fear and discomfort can cause us to persevere in our illusions. If we can get better at accepting
reality and dealing with it, we can make faster progress toward real achievement.
- 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?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 11: The Rhyme-as-Reason Effect
- When we speak or write, the phrases we use have both form and meaning. Although we usually think of form and meaning as distinct, we tend to assess as more meaningful and valid those phrases that are more beautifully formed. The rhyme-as-reason effect causes us to confuse the validity of a phrase with its aesthetics. Available here and by RSS on December 11.
- And on December 18: The Trap of Beautiful Language
- As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus. Available here and by RSS on December 18.
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Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.