Why do change agents resist change?

I’ve have been noticing a trend among “change agents” in the federal government lately. They are often the very people dragging their feet and resisting to their last breath compliance with policies and procedures to actually implement real change. Contrary to popular belief, most agencies already have policies, procedures etc. to review, approve and implement change. All you have to do is learn the process, fill in the proper forms, coordinate with those affected, get approval from the proper authority and go for it. But the moment one of these change agents is asked to do any of the above, they react like someone tried to strangle their new born baby in the crib. “Why do we need to coordinate with all these offices?” – Because your change will probably impose requirements on them and they may want to adjust their budget request accordingly? “Why do we need to fill in all these forms and produce so much background analysis?” – Because communication is a good thing and allocating significant resources without sound justification is not. And on and on. NONE of these requirements are a heavy lift. They may slow things down a bit more than a mole hill but they are not Everest. During the course of my career, I have watched a parade of “change agents” spend years resisting requirements to process their proposals through the system, all the while complaining about the moss-backed, old timers blocking the way. Worse yet, many become secretive about the changes they are trying to implement and how they are doing it. They delay exchanging information until the last possible moment, try to sneak new projects past the budget process, shift personnel responsibilities without changing job descriptions etc. These maneuvers rarely lead to good outcomes and often generate more roadblocks than they remove. Ironically, the change agents could have actually achieved their goals in about 1/3 the time they spent complaining by filling in the forms, doing the analysis, coordinating with affected departments, producing the reports, gaining approval etc. Which leaves me with the question “Why do change agents resist change?”

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David B. Grinberg

That’s a great question, Peter, and an interesting practical analysis. You know that old saying: no pain, no gain.