Reasons why so many changes fail #5: Immunity to Change

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

Reasons why so many changes fail

#5  Immunity to Change

Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey found this immunity works against our best efforts to follow through on plans.

Kegan and Lahey’s work dovetails nicely with Pfeffer and Sutton’s knowing-doing gap. In their book, Immunity to Change, they identify hidden commitments that get in the way of our ability to work on our goals. Weight loss is a good example of this. Tabloids give us new diets every week. We know that human physiology hasn’t changed since last Thursday, but we still hope that there might be some new finding that makes losing weight easy. These quick-fix solutions mask a deeper problem, and that’s our built-in immunity to change. Even though we say we want to lose X pounds, we have an equally strong commitment to a way of eating and living that works against this goal. Only when we dig deep and find other (maybe unconscious) goals, can we even think about losing weight. For example, I don’t want to give up pancakes, beer, sundaes, burgers, and pork rinds (just to pick a hypothetical example).

Same thing applies in organizational change. A leader may say that he wants to get people involved in planning a major new project, but he also wants to keep control over what happens.