Resistance to change is a myth

Change is afoot. There is a lot being written these days about the impact of Covid19 on changing the way we do business.

But what of the human component of change. We can easily change a process but getting humans to change their behaviour can be more complex.

Paul Plsek, internationally recognized advisor on creativity, innovation, leadership, and the management of change in complex systems, argues that resistance to change is a myth.

Motivating people to move from one place to another, he says, is not like throwing a rock, the movement of which can be precisely calculated with equations. Rather it is like releasing birds. To get the birds to the point you want, you have to find a way to attract them to that point.

Behaviour revolves around patterns associated with personal values (e.g. desire for professional autonomy or recognition) and a sense of purpose (what is meaningful for me in my work). When it comes to motivating ourselves or others towards action, data shows you will put more effort into something if it’s important to you.

That’s intrinsic motivation.
– An internal desire to participate in an activity for its own sake
– Engaging in an activity for the pleasure and satisfaction of doing it
– Connecting to a shared purpose

Both Dan Ariely and Dan Pink write about the essential ingredients for intrinsic motivation. Foremost among them is meaning which is essential; performing an activity that offers a sense of achievement or mastery; autonomy and the ability to claim ownership of our work; and effort because effort engenders meaning.

So, when leading a team though change, it makes sense then that you work out what the individuals in your team value and their personal sense of purpose. How can you do this?

Create ongoing dialogue about sense of purpose. Sincerely and appreciatively ask…

  • What do you do here?
  • What difference do you want to make here?
  • I notice you light up (or switch off) when we talk about X – what’s that about? (It’s OK, I really want to know)
  • What does “best” mean?
  • What are you most committed to in your work (professionally)?
  • What do we do here in this team that is most relevant and meaningful to you?
  • How do you want to be remembered?

Notice how people enact their values. Reflect on past engagements…

  • What do they do/say–what issues do they bring up–when they are “resisting change”?
  • What issues do they bring up when they are suggesting, leading or supporting change? (Most people present cases for change – or raise issues and challenges – that appeal to their values.)
  • What initiatives, programs, changes, and innovations have they been actively and constructively engaged in the past? On which ones have they sat passively by or actively resisted?
  • What are the characteristics of initiatives, programs, changes, and innovations that they seem to engage naturally? Resist naturally?

Recognise that it is your highest daily-work as a leader to connect you people to their purpose and values. They will move of their own accord if you “…teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”


Sign up to my newsletter and receive your free download:
12 Strategies to Increase Your Leadership Presence in Meetings

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: