Tag Archives: resistance

How to Become a Successful Change Leader

For this month’s Influential Voices Roundtable, the American Society for Quality (ASQ) asks: “In today’s current climate, transformation is a common term and transformative efforts are a regular occurrence. Although these efforts are common, according to Harvard Business Review two-thirds of large-scale transformation efforts fail. Research has proven that effective leadership is crucial for a change initiative to be successful.  How can an individual become a successful Change Leader?

Change is hard only because maintaining status quo is easy. Doing things even a little differently requires cognitive energy! Because most people are pretty busy, there has to be a clear payoff to invest that extra energy in changing, even if the change is simple.

Becoming a successful change leader means helping people find the reasons to invest that energy on their own. First, find the source of resistance (if there is one) and do what you can to remove it. Second, try co-creation instead of feedback to build solutions. Here’s what I mean.

Find Sources of Resistance

In 1983, information systems researcher M. Lynne Markus wanted to figure out why certain software implementations, “designed at great cost of time and money, are abandoned or excessively overhauled because they were unenthusiastically received by their intended users.” Nearly 40 years later, enterprises still occasionally run into the same issue, even though Software as a Service (SaaS) models can (to some extent) reduce this risk.

Before her research started, she found these themes associated with resistance (they will probably feel familiar to you even today):

By studying failed software implementations in finance, she uncovered three main sources for the resistance. So as a change leader, start out by figuring out if they resonate, and then apply one of the remedies on the right:

As you might imagine, this third category (the “political version of interaction theory”) is the most difficult to solve. If a new process or system threatens someone’s power or position, they are unlikely to admit it, it may be difficult to detect, and it will take some deep counseling to get to the root cause and solve it.

Co-Creation Over Feedback

Imagine this: a process in your organization is about to change, and someone comes to you with a step-by-step outline of the new proposed process. “I’d like to get your feedback on this,” he says.

That’s nice, right? Isn’t that exactly what’s needed to ensure smooth management of change? You’ll give your feedback, and then when it’s time to adopt the process, it will go great – right?

In short, NO.

For change to be smooth and effective, people have to feel like they’re part of the process of developing the solution. Although people might feel slightly more comfortable if they’re asked for their thoughts on a proposal, the resultant solution is not theirs — in fact, their feedback might not even be incorporated into it. There’s no “skin in the game.”

In contrast, think about a scenario where you get an email or an invitation to a meeting. “We need to create a new process to decide which of our leads we’ll follow up on, and evaluate whether we made the right decision. We’d like it to achieve [the following goals]. We have to deal with [X, Y and Z] boundary conditions, which we can’t change due to [some factors that are well articulated and understandable].”

You go to the meeting, and two hours later all the stakeholders in the room have co-created a solution. What’s going to happen when it’s time for that process to be implemented? That’s right — little or no resistance. Why would anyone resist a change that they thought up themselves?

Satisficing

Find the resistance, cast it out, and co-create solutions. But don’t forget the most important step: recognizing that perfection is not always perfect. (For quality professionals, this one can be kind of tough to accept at times.)

What this means is: in situations where change is needed, sometimes it’s better to adopt processes or practices that are easier or more accessible for the people who do them. Processes that are less efficient can sometimes be better than processes that are more efficient, if the difference has to do with ease of learning or ease of execution. Following these tips will help you help others take some of the pain out of change.


Markus, M. L. (1983). Power, politics, and MIS implementation.  Communications of the ACM, 26(6), 430-444. Available from http://130.18.86.27/faculty/warkentin/papers/Markus1983_CACM266_PowerPoliticsMIS.pdf

When Your Ideas are Met With Resistance

bm-survivalHas anyone ever opposed your ideas? Punctuated your plans? (This could be something you’ve experienced at work, or just in the regular course of life.)

Has anyone encouraged you (subtly or not so subtly) to remain entrenched in the status quo? To not “rock the boat”?

Yeah, me too.

Usually, when people question my ideas, plans, or approach – I’ll step back. I don’t want to be perceived as pushy, or aggressive, or anything other than basically nice and considerate of other peoples’ positions and feelings. I like to work in the shadowy background, producing what is meaningful to me, while others focus on what is meaningful to them – never the two paths to meet. If I’m working on projects or products for clients or customers, I defer to them entirely – using my experience or expertise only to guide or inform the process of discovery. I don’t like conflict, but when I do, I’d rather it’s between two OTHER people or organizations – and I’m just in the middle as the broker, attempting to fuse the two positions into a cohesive and mutually agreeable vision.

Sometimes, though, you can’t avoid being one of the parties in conflict – and as a result, today I discovered the blessing of opposition.

In the Summer 2004 issue of Journal for Quality and Participation, Thomas Berstene discussed “The Inexorable Link Between Conflict and Change” — explaining how conflict can facilitate transformation, that is, “the passing from one place, state, form, or phase to another.” He notes how every organization has examples of how constructive conflict can lead to positive transformation, if that conflict is honored for its potential value. Most significantly, he describes the cultivation of power as a means to resolve conflict, by “achieving self-interests without inflicting force on others.”

Cultivating power requires four things:

  • Authenticity. Being totally, completely, unabashedly true to your own needs, desires, and aspirations.
  • Synergy. Cultivating relationships so that you can work in harmony with (most, if not all) others.
  • Inner Strength. A sense of calm, and a higher level of peace and resourcefulness – you know you can come to a positive conclusion!
  • Quality of Being. The “experience of joy, ease, and serenity that derive from identification with one’s authentic Self” which renders these individuals “able to focus their attention on the current situation without dragging in history or resisting what might happen.”

I just got back from Burning Man (more on that later – MUCH more, in fact) so I’m nestled firmly in the womb of my power. All of the cobwebs that have clouded my mind and psyche for the past five years have been whisked away. I’m calm. I trust.

I’m unwilling to be anything other than true to myself right now. There’s just not enough time in this life to be otherwise.

And from this vantage point, I’ve discovered the blessing of opposition!

Today, it became pretty clear that some projects that are important to me are experiencing some resistance from others. That’s OK – maybe they don’t understand why my projects are so important to me. Maybe I can explain it to them. Maybe I’ll never be able to.

But instead of stepping back, this opposition unexpectedly, unashamedly rebirthed the dragon in me.

The opposition to my approach quickly – and with tsunamis of emotion – clarified, for me, what I believe in – the essence of what I think is really important.

And now I know what I believe. I think I knew it before, but now my gut knows it, and my body is ready to live it. I’m committed to what I believe. I’m willing to give up everything to follow what I believe.

And that’s what makes today starkly different — and entirely more colorful — than the potentials I embodied yesterday.

The Secret to Innovation = A Cure for Depression?

I really like Doug Buckley’s Facebook posts (he’s from http://hyperactive.to). Our connection was purely accidental – he tagged a picture of the back of my husband’s head on Facebook as his own, and after a short online debate (where he finally acknowledged that I was probably an expert in recognizing the back of my own spouse’s head) we friended one another. Doug posts great photos and images (like the one on the top left of this post), insights, quotes and music about 40 or 50 times a day. One of Doug’s recent gems was “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” ~ Winston Churchill

The ability to move from one failure to another (presumably, using each as a valuable learning experience) with no loss of enthusiasm! Wow, I thought… not only is that the secret to innovation, but… I am SO not good at doing that. When I’m facing a failure, I do what any sane, logical person in the grips of Chinese handcuffs will do… I pull harder. I rearrange the deck chairs faster. I get really &$^#&^$& angry. Then I pretend like everything’s OK. And when I can’t deal with pretending any longer, I break down into tears (hopefully not around other people).

Then, in the words of Fred and Ginger, I pick myself up – dust myself off – and start all over again.

(I just read this again, and just so you don’t miss the point of that last sentence… after I dust myself off, I’m starting again on the negative pattern of trying even harder. What, you think I’d give up that easily?)

It’s a miserable approach, though, regardless of how noble it sounds. Pulling harder or pushing harder (whatever you’re doing) requires more effort and rarely generates better results. And if you’re pushing against someone else who’s not ready to see your light, or pushing on a project that other people just aren’t ready to play within the bounds of, well… good luck.

I’m a smart person. I’m solution oriented. I can make things happen!! As a result, I doggedly pursue my goals. And when I’m meeting with resistance (especially when that resistance doesn’t seem to make sense to me), I don’t respond very gracefully at all. (Sometimes I even turn psycho-chick, which makes me feel even more disturbed, because I’m pretty level headed in general and I wouldn’t act like that, would I?)

The illusion of control is an affliction that’s unique to humans. Bears looking for salmon will move on if their favorite spot in the river isn’t producing. If people were bears, we’d stick around, keep waiting, commit to a positive attitude, convene a quality circle or tiger team, rehash past data that proves the salmon used to be there (or extrapolate to show they will be there again, really), wish real hard that the salmon are still there, pretend nothing has changed, craft convincing arguments that the cost/benefit of moving to another place in the river is prohibitive (or my favorite, just cost neutral), curse the river, wish we’d never gotten into the habit of eating salmon in the first place, lose all motivation, lose sense of the meaning in one’s life without the salmon, or sit on the riverbanks weeping over the ephemeral salmon who just won’t show up no matter what we do. Pretty pathetic. Nowhere near as agile as moving to another spot in the river where the salmon may have moved on to themselves.

Professor of psychology Jonathan Rottenberg has hypothesized that this resistance mechanism is also what compels depressed people to stay in bed – hiding under the covers, retreating into sleep or alcohol or drugs (pick your poison) – is just a way to deal with one’s inability to disengage from efforts that are failing. He writes:

So this alternative theory turns the standard explanation on its head. Depressed people don’t end up lying in bed because they are undercommitted to goals. They end up lying in bed because they areovercommitted to goals that are failing badly. The idea that depressed people cannot disengage efforts from failure is a relatively new theory. It has not been much tested in research studies. However, the idea is well worth exploring. It fits well clinically with the kinds of situations that often precipitate serious depression — the battered wife who cannot bring herself to leave her troubled marriage, the seriously injured athlete who cannot bring himself to retire, the laid off employee who cannot bring herself to abandon her chosen career despite a lack of positions in her line of work. Seeing these depressions in terms of unreachable goals may be useful clinically, and may help us better understand how ordinary low moods can escalate into incapacitating bouts of depression.

To be innovative, we have to learn how to detach from failure quickly and move on with the next stage of our ideas with enthusiasm. If Rottenberg’s new hypothesis has merit, to escape depression we have to learn how to detach from failure quickly and move on to our next goals or the next phases of our lives – with enthusiasm.

Can a futuristic mental health intervention increase our personal innovative potential?

My hunch is yes. There are always other fish in the sea.