Why do smart people resist positive change? Maybe because you're telling them about change, not co-creating it with them.

Most change initiatives face active resistance from the people involved, and this usually goes far beyond the basic systems problem of The harder you push, the harder the system pushes back. If we start co-creating change with them, rather than doing change to them, we might — just might — get better results.

I’m increasingly convinced that all transformation initiatives should only be staffed and impact those who have actively and consciously opted into the change.

We know (via Dan Pink) that creative knowledgeworkers (i.e. everyone who knows more about the work than their boss does) are significantly motivated by autonomy, and this is amplified by mastery: if they are able to feel that they’re learning and getting good at it.

We also know (via Peter Senge) that the fastest approach of involvement – Telling – creates no commitment, fails to gain the critical diversity of input we need and simply does not engage anyone’s interest in the outcome to encourage them to want it.

Telling
Here’s the plan, do it
Selling
Here’s why you should just do it
Testing
Do you think this plan will work?
Consulting
I’m looking for some ideas for my plan
Co-creating
Let’s work on the plan together

Peter Senge: The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook

And we know (via Ed Schein and the entire history of helping professions), that you can’t help anyone who doesn’t want to be helped. Inflicting help on someone just causes anger and resistance.

How many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb?

Just one. But the lightbulb has to want to change.
Ancient joke

So why is it that I continue to see organisations where the Head of Change descends from the mountaintop (flanked by Change Consultants and Agile Coaches) with tablets of stone on which is written THE CHANGE PLAN, backed up with orders to just go and roll it out?

Bootnotes

  1. This is in the ‘Patterns’ section – it’s more of an anti-pattern
  2. I have some thoughts on how we might do this better in practice.
  3. Essential reading:
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Martin Burns

Transformation Consultant at CA Inc (formerly Rally)
Previously: Leader of software delivery portfolios in large scale orgs.
Specialism: Transforming complex delivery organisations to be more Lean/Agile.
Mindset: Continuous Improvement Obsessive
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CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 Why Do Smart People Resist Positive Change? by Martin Burns is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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