Resistance is Not Futile: Why Resisting Change May be Good

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This topic contains 8 replies, has 6 voices, and was last updated by  Steve Ressler 8 years ago.

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  • #113837

    Bill Brantley

    A contrarian perspective on resistance to change – The Benefits of Change Resistance.

    “Leadership constantly works with resistance, in oneself and others. The
    forms of resistance change and develop while the work progresses.”

  • #113853

    Steve Ressler

    I can believe in that. Sometime tension and resistance is tough but it can often lead to a better solution

  • #113851

    Denise Petet

    There is a fine line between ‘all change is bad, stop it’ and questioning. And I think that’s where ‘resistance to change’ gets a bad rap.

    Quite often in govt (and heck in the private sector as well) you end up with a lot of management that gets a position based upon personal relationships rather than skill and ‘earning’ it. And so you end up with a decision maker that’s never done the job, deciding to change things because they ‘make sense’ or ‘look better’.

    Thing is, they quite often don’t understand just what they’re changing. Or why.

    There can certainly be a benefit to sitting down and poking holes into the ‘new and improved’ way of doing things….I think of it as troubleshooting before it all goes to heck in a handbasket.

    Sometimes asking why now can save you a ton of ‘how do we fix it’ later.

  • #113849

    Bill Brantley

    @Denise – There is a whole book on the point you just made: Why Decisions Fail by Paul Nutt

  • #113847

    Jenyfer Johnson

    I have to agree with Denise.

    It’s one thing to resist change just because you don’t want to change…but to question it because you want to understand it or you think something about it is wrong or could be done better is “resisting” for the right reason.

    People too often take a bad rap for questioning change and are told they are not being team players, when all they are doing is looking for answers or trying to improve the change. It then becomes the people who are implementing the change that are immoveable/unbendable and resistant to change. Not a good situation. This is why so many people don’t buy into changes. They are sold to us “AS IS” and take-it-or-leave-it and don’t question it. That’s not the way to encourage people to change.

  • #113845

    Mark Hammer

    I recommend the late Larry Terry’s excellent and inspiring book “Leadership of Public Bureaucracies: The Administrator as Conservator”.

    One of Terry’s essential points is that public institutions accomplish some of what they do via their authorities, as instituted by law, but most of what they are able to do comes about via their authoritativeness, and perception by all stakeholders that these are the folks who are best informed, wisest, most thoughtful, are best-equipped, have the best perspective, and our best interests at heart, when it comes to X. In a mere 160 or so pages, Terry masterfully outlines the many things one needs to attend to to keep an organization on the rails and true to itself and its mission. The risk of not doing so is that the very folks you need buy-in from may simply feel “Well why should I listen to them?”.

    This is the long way of saying that there is “change” which allows an organization to be more effective at being itself, and change which results in mission-drift and loss of identity and trust. Resisting that second type of change is one of the best and most authentic things a public servant can do for their institution.

    One of the secrets to effective change management is persuading people that nothing has really changed about the big picture or the long-term objectives. All that is really changing are some of the superficial details. I think far too many who wish to champion and foment change in an organization forget that humans need justification…constantly. And if the way that “change” is being imposed has the air of “everything you did, and the way you did it up to now was stupid and wrong”, those employees WILL fight you. And they will fight you because they need to believe (and deserve to) that the chunk of their life spent on doing things the old way (unless that mode was forced on them against their will) was not wasted. Letting people know that the important things remain unchanged makes it easier for them to relinquish the details of the old ways, because it provides value to their prior efforts.

  • #113843

    Denise Petet

    in a lot of cases, ones I’m familiar with anyway, there are a lot of ‘middle managers’, that are pushing forth changes that either make sense to them, or are parroting change put upon them by – usually – appointed administrators…who don’t do the job.

    Upper management can’t quite explain things to middle mgmt. Largely because upper mgmt doesn’t know the nitty gritty. Or middle mgmt doesn’t quite understand just what upper mgmt wants…but won’t say so cause they’re just insecure enough that they don’t want to admit they don’t know what they should know, or what upper mgmt thinks they should know.

    So we have a lot of people implementing change, that really don’t ‘get it’, yet are afraid of being questioned because they don’t want to look ‘stupid’, so questions are something to fear. Thing is, for many of us in the lower ranks, we’re not stupid. We know that our managers quite often have no idea whatsoever about what we do. And we’d probably respect them more if they fessed up and admitted that they really don’t know what they should…but dude, we need to change this and this is why, so how can we make it work????

    in other words, instead of thrusting it on others with ‘i’m the boss, do as i say’, if they’d just take 5 minutes with a ‘this is what and this is why’ explanation, people would likely understand it better and work with it.

  • #113841

    Mark Hammer

    tangent alert

    About 8 years ago, someone on the job analysis listserv asked the question “What are the top 10 competencies needed for future jobs?” (or something like that). Without even batting an eyelash, I replied immediately “explanatory skill”.

    Explanatory skill is NOT the same thing as communication kills, and therein lies some of the problem. I can engage you, and maintain your interest, and you can still leave the room wondering what the hell I was talking about, or completely unable to convey the message to a third party. That may be good “communication” but lousy explanation. When I used to teach university, I would regularly ask my students if any of them had ever received explicit training in how to explain things well; the answer was always ‘no’.

    In a world that increasingly demands coordination amongst many stakeholders, often many disparate stakeholders with different levels of background knowledge or different personal investments in whatever the activity is, the capacity to explain so that people not only “get it”, but accept it, and are able to serve as your proxy/avatar by explaining it to others…..well you can’t put a price on that.

    And that’s not just a requisite competency for your middle manager. It is a requirement for being an effective lawyer, car mechanic, plumber, teacher, call center rep, sales staff, parent, spouse, neighbour, etc.

    Of course, it almost goes without saying that when ideas or initiatives are very poorly thought out, explaining them clearly can often expose their weaknesses in ways the explainer did not intend. In such circumstances, a good explanation may reduce buy-in rather than the desired opposite.

  • #113839

    David Dejewski

    When I was the CIO for Navy Medical Logistics 10+ years ago, there was a little woman down the hall with a round Brussels sprout hair cut who I lovingly refer to as the Nazi lady. She seemingly hated everything I said or did, and delighted in bringing up sensitive points or pointing out flaws in my thinking – usually in public while I was trying to conduct a meeting with a room full of others. She never failed to hit a nerve – and, she was often right about whatever point she brought up.

    The fact was, I had blind spots that also happened to be her strengths. She saw things I didn’t see. If I forced myself to be open to her input, the end result was better for everyone.

    Over time, I learned to really appreciate her presence. I deliberately invited her to my meetings if I didn’t see her on the invite list. A little Brussels sprout voice slowly took root and grew in my head. It forced me to prepare better for meetings and to think hard about what she would say when she got her grove on.

    The bottom line is that it’s a good thing to be open to criticism – and even to seek it out – especially when your job is to bring change to organizations. It is not easy to do, but I had to thicken my skin and realize that this kind of resistance polishes a program. It wasn’t the death of my initiatives. It was often just an important part of the birthing process.

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