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Overcoming Resistance to Change



V x Rr x DwSQ>OR2C


Carl Jung observed that "All true things must change and only that which changes remains true". This is a profound paradox, especially when you consider that for all the talk of change there is today, the reality is that most people and most organisations don’t want it. Why would they? Only yesterday, Tesco and Apple were at the top of their game; they were unbeatable superstar companies that the world admired and wanted to emulate; today – after change – they are less on top, less precious, threatened by radicals and upstarts as well as public perception about their integrity. So the process goes on. We do not want to relinquish what we have achieved, but change necessitates that we have to let go. Jung’s point makes it clear that once we embrace stasis, we ossify, and what was a winning formula no longer works. “Every dog has its day”, as the saying goes, and even Muhammed Ali cannot be the greatest forever.


The need for security, then, means we have an inbuilt resistance to change, yet we know we must change if we are to become all that we might be, as individuals and as organisations. After all, who wants to remain a child indefinitely? What are the factors that enable us or our organisation more specifically to overcome resistance to change? I think there are three.


First, in order for organisations (but think individuals too) to want to embrace change they need a compelling vision; a vision is promissory note on the future. It creates an expectation – a belief in an unborn outcome, and belief is amazingly powerful. It’s emotional for one thing and this is important. As Donald Calne said, “The essential difference between emotion and reason is that emotion leads to action while reason leads to conclusions”. The vision then galvanises action – we move towards it; and the stronger and more constant the vision the more powerfully and consistently we move towards it.


Second, it’s all well having a vision, but we all know about what we call ‘unrealistic’ visions: people and organisations pitching ludicrously high, way above any possibility of fulfilment. For any vision to be really strong, it needs strong foundations, and these can be summed up in the word, resources. Have we the resources necessary to achieve the vision? If we do, the excitement is palpable; if we do not, the self-delusion is crushing. But what are these resources?


I think there are nine key resources we need to consider and these are in three groups of three. First, and most obviously, there are the tangible resources we need to complete the vision: Money, Equipment, Space (or the Environment). Next there are intangible resources we need: Time, Knowledge, Information. Finally, we need people and we need people development factors: People Skills, Right Attitude or Motivation, and Agreed Co-operation. On this last point, so often overlooked, we must bear in mind that sometimes even with all the money and time in the world we still cannot get what we want unless we can get cooperation from others.


It might be thought that if we had the vision and the resources, then bingo! we’re home and dried, but alas, certainly from an organisational point of view, this is not the case. Vision and Resources are not enough in themselves to compel people to want to change; remember, they are safe and secure where they are. As Philip Crosby put it: “Good ideas and solid concepts have a great deal of difficulty in being understood by those who earn their living by doing it some other way”. The last factor in overcoming resistance to change may surprise you.


For people, and so for organisations, to want to change they need to be dissatisfied with the status quo! That’s right – they need to be unhappy with the way things are. Hence the formula:


V x Rr x DwSQ>OR2C


Or, Vision x Resources x Dissatisfaction with Status Quo Overcomes Resistance to Change


Thus, a weird corollary of this can be that staff are too happy, too contented, too well paid, too secure and this leads to a dreadful stagnation in terms of organisational development. The old Mystery Plays in England had a character, the devil, who had a great line which said: “mankind’s chiefest enemy was security” because the devil knew that once complacency stuck in mankind was vulnerable to all forms of temptation – forgetting the way and losing sight of the vision. Sometimes management simply has to create a constructive discontent if things are going to move on at all.


Also, clearly, I hope, is the idea of knowing just how contented or discontented your staff are, and apart from them bellowing directly in your ear, or simply quitting, the most effective way of knowing, and certainly the most accurate, is via Motivational Maps.


But apart from using Maps strategically, there are four things you can do anyway to ease a change management program and overcome resistance. First, remember to go at pace staff can move at. You are in a hurry, but they may not see the urgency – assess their capabilities first and recall the tortoise – slow and steady wins the race. Second, target objectives which inform activities; in other make their work purposeful and point in the direction of the vision. Third, protect areas of professionalism (e.g. process, strategies) but always give clear objectives. Change programs which undermine the professional standing of the players always incur the most bitter resistance. Finally, encourage individuals to see how their area contributes to the whole organisational objectives – the big picture, the vision. We all want to make a difference at some level – let’s help people do it.




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