Reasons why so many changes fail
#15 Fail to understand why people support – and why they resist change.
When a former chairman of the ill-fated Eastern Airlines was once asked what he thought of employee involvement, he replied, “There is no way I’m going to have the monkeys running the zoo.” (1) This kind of arrogance makes cooperation extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible. Is it any wonder that Eastern went out of business?
Although the word is used freely when we speak of change, it is often used imprecisely.
- We use resistance to talk about some vague opposition.
- The mere mention of the word may evoke anger at those who have the audacity to resist us.
- We call these people resisters, as if resistance were the sole province of a class of people – whom we probably don’t like.
- Therefore, it is natural to find a way to get rid of it – to overcome resistance.
These views work against our ability to build the support and commitment we need to any big change (or little change, for that matter). Attempts to try to overcome resistance usually just increase opposition. Newton could have been writing about resistance when he said that for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. With a better understanding of the nature of resistance, you will become more adept at recognizing it in all its many forms, and learn how to anticipate and avoid it.
So, what is resistance? It is a force that slows or stops movement. It is a natural and expected part of change. Any system, whether the human body or an organization, resists any change that it believes will be harmful. If you have ever tried to lose weight, you will immediately recognize this dilemma. As you try to lose a few pounds, your metabolism slows to keep you from starving. Your body doesn’t know that you are acting on a New Year’s resolution. It is simply trying to slow you down so you can conserve energy. Research (but not personal experience) suggests that when you overeat, your metabolism speeds up to keep you at a comfortable set point or preferred weight. Your metabolism adjusts to keep your weight steady.
Resistance protects us from harm. It keeps us from skiing down treacherous, double-back, diamond slopes after our first lesson on the bunny hill. It alerts us that taking that chair lift to Bodycast Mountain is foolhardy and hazardous to our health. In organizations, it keeps us from saying “Yes” to every bonehead idea that some overzealous manager dreams up. By resisting, we may save ourselves lots of unnecessary work, pain, and migraines.
From the vantage point of the person resisting, caution is absolutely the right course of action. When we are the ones resisting, we see it as a positive force. It keeps us safe. Resistance can be a sign of health, a way to navigate in a complex and rapidly changing world.
Resistance is energy. If you have ever faced a room full of people angry at some action you took, you will have no trouble recognizing this unique brand of energy.
Resistance is part of any desired change. When you want something new, resistance comes up. I write this chapter a few days after New Year’s. I am staying away from my health club because I know that all the cardio and weight machines will be in use. All floor space will be covered with brand new Spandex outfits. I’ll wait until February when all this will change. The people who made strong New Year’s resolutions to get in shape will realize that they moved to action (Roll Out on the cycle) without thinking through some of the forces that could work against this new goal. Having to get up an hour and a half earlier, and having to go to bed earlier. Having to start eating tofu instead of Bud’s Big Heart Attack burger with bacon and brie. This New Year’s enthusiasm put them out ahead of themselves on the cycle. (This is adapted from my book, Beyond the Wall of Resistance: Why 70% of Changes Still Fail – and What To Do About It. You can order the book by clicking on this link.)
(1) Source: Paradise Tossed The Free Library www.thefreelibrary.com This site includes a lengthy article on the history of Eastern Airlines under Lorenzo. It is worth reading.