16 Resisters of Change

Yesterday i introduced a new framework for thinking about Change in organisations in the Social Age. It’s intended to draw together a number of loose threads that i’ve been reflecting on the last couple of years: notions around the evolution of power and how organisations exert control, around how our authority is embedded within hierarchies, ideas around how communities can co-create and co-own change, against the backdrop of the Social Age, with it’s focus on storytelling, social authority and amplification. Whilst i recognise that there is no one solution to fit all Organisations, i’m hoping that together it will provide a framework for action.

Dynamic Change in the Social Age

The Change Curve i introduced yesterday allowed us to characterise an organisation’s view of change as ‘Resisted‘, ‘Constrained‘ or ‘Dynamic‘. Next i’ll introduce 16 Resisters to Change: a matrix of factors that contribute to where the organisation sits on the curve. This will form the basis of practical interventions to counter the resistance, to engage with communities and to co-create change: a dynamic approach.

What do i mean by a ‘Dynamic‘ approach? Essentially, it’s intended to capture the fact that any model of organisational change must be multi faceted and adaptive: you cannot change a system with one large shove, when it’s built to be elastic. Rather, you must engage at every level, across functions, projects and site, to create magnetic change: you must create opportunities for people to shape and be invested in the change.

To effect change, we should build a narrative, taking elements from each category of resistance. One brick at a time.

The 16 Resisters of change

So here are the 16 Resisters of change: 16 dimensions of constraint. Is it definitive? No, but it’s a start. The key is to engage in breadth, to build awareness, then to create opportunity to engage. Remember, it’s not about a ‘push‘ model, we are aiming for magnetism, so we need to engage in a broad range of areas, from technology to process, training to communication, from the individual to the group.

The Resisters are organised into four Categories: ‘Technology‘, ‘Communication‘, ‘Cognition‘, and ‘Behaviour‘.

TECHNOLOGY can be a resister to change as it tends to induce lethargy and control in organisations. We can consider four aspects of this:

1. To what extent it CONTROLS and limits behaviours as opposed to encouraging curiosity, sharing and collaboration. Control is both a process and mindset.

2. How much existing INVESTMENT in technology limits experimentation and change. The system that suited us last year may be outdated this year. The fact that we invested in it last year does not influence the truth of this.

3. Does the organisation have the CAPABILITY to facilitate with technology: is the unknown known? Technology is complex and ever changing: we hope somebody (the IT team?) will have a handle on this, but they may simply be invested in the status quo or too busy to look.

4. Linked to this, who has PERMISSION to be curious? Is technology fundamentally viewed as facilitating, or a service? Does it support agility, or actively block it? Or, worse, passively constrain agility?

COMMUNICATION is about the narrative arteries of the organisation. How dynamic is it’s approach to communication: too often, ‘communication‘ is seen as something special that can only be handled by a Comms department. In the Social Age, this model is outdated: Social Leaders need to be able to work effectively to shape and share stories, adding to the signal, not the noise. The four aspects that we consider here are:

1. Does the organisation suffer from STASIS: are it’s stories dynamic, or adaptive? In the old world, we wrote stories then shared them. In the Social Age, we share them, then finish writing them. They are adaptive and evolutionary.

2. Is the primary model one of BROADCAST or engagement? Broadcast models of communication rely on the organisation telling stories that are shaped, signed off and distributed downwards. Engaged models involve co-creation of those stories, allowing the opportunity for investment of the individual in the change.

3. Organisations need to consider their view of OWNERSHIP: one of the biggest challenges for the engaged organisation is to relinquish control and ownership of messages. Under a co-created, social model, the organisations frames the change, but the change story is co-created and co-owned by the community. If the organisation views itself as the primary owner of change, it will resist co-creation.

4. Then our old friend, the AUTHENTICITY of communication: is it the voice of the individual or the organisation? We are increasingly attuned to how authentic a story is: if the organisation relies on formal communication, static stories that are broadcast, it may lack authenticity. And we resist inauthentic stories.

The third category is COGNITION. This is about the interplay of individual psychology and organisational dynamics. How does what we feel influence how we act?

1. A resister to change can be our perceived experience of CONSEQUENCE: how permanent is consequence and where does it sit. If we don’t fully understand this, we are less free to experiment, to adopt agile behaviours and be open to change.

2. Our sense of BELONGING within a community can either inhibit or facilitate our ability to face change. We face social risk is we move into a change role too fast, but equally we can be left behind. We also need to think about confirmation bias: do members of strongly resistant and coherent resister communities unquestioningly block new ideas to maintain cohesion?

3. Where there is UNCERTAINTY, people understandably tend towards safety. We need to create clear spaces for uncertainty, but also spaces for certainty. And clearly signpost the two.

4. Finally, DENIAL can be a powerful blocker to change: simply ignore everything and plough on. Denial behaviours can significantly contribute to organisational lethargy, so we have to understand where it’s rooted, to be able to erode it.

Finally, BEHAVIOUR. How do aspects of individual behaviour contribute to organisational resistance to change? Here are four aspects of the matrix for us to consider:

1. The strongest resister to change is simply HABIT: habitual responses are triggered by familiar situations. We have to understand how habit can resist change.

2. ELASTICITY is about how much flex there is in the organisation: when it’s pushed, where does it give, where does it resist? Firm resistance is easy to deal with: elasticity can be an issue. It absorbs momentum with only minor distortion, then springs back.

3. People will often work for REWARD, but that reward may not be financial: it may be reputational or about community cohesion. We need to understand the reward environment and how it can reinforce lethargy.

4. Finally, is it all about PERFORMANCE, or are there spaces for rehearsal? Organisations that require constant performance resist change as there is no space to rehearse.

The path to action will consist of building a change narrative that is broad: just tackling one of these areas is unlikely to work. You have to tackle a number. For example, fantastic social collaborative technology will not make the change journey easier unless we unblock habitual responses. And we can make communication better, but if reward counters that, the organisation will still respond elastically.

The Change Curve

Where does your organisation sit on the Change Curve?

I’m going to elaborate further on these four categories and sixteen resisters over time, but the principle is that change will be driven by broad engagement to address a range of these elements, providing fertile ground for change communities to establish to tie into our magnetic, co-created and co-owned model of change. A model fit for the Social Age.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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31 Responses to 16 Resisters of Change

  1. David Jarrett says:

    Good days work matey

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  29. askduncan says:

    Thank you Julian – this presents an accessible way to engage colleagues in dialogue about change and why it might not be happening. Each steps maps closely and recognisably to the context I work in – which is with colleges and universities adapting/resisting to incorporate technology into their students educational experience.

    We hear of ‘freds in the shed’, ‘local champions’, ‘pockets of good practice’ and IT services acting as ‘innovation prevention departments’. Also of teachers who don’t have time, pressurised managers who punish failed experiements, and low confidence. And that there may be a management vision and strategy, but no one knows what it is.

    So plenty to work on, strengthened by this structural understanding

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