Saturday, March 01, 2014

3rd in a Series on Change Management: Why People Won't Change

In my reading of the Harvard Business Review article, The "Real Reason People Won’t Change” by Kegan & Lahey, I came across this concept of “change immunity”. The insight is that "commitment conflict? is why people resist and even fights change. It is less that they are fighting change than that they are being true to their current commitments. Can’t blame people for that. In fact you can even respect them for it. That said, such immunity can cause damage when change is resisted in lieu of the obsolete status quo. By the way, a "competing commitment" is a subconscious hidden goal that conflicts with stated commitments. 

For me this is a new insight and a caution not to take other’s resistance to change personally. This is not about me. It really is about them and their commitment. This new insight accepted, the question becomes what can be done about it. The authors espouse a challenging 3 step process that can be used to overcome “change immunity”. Here is a summation of it and please read the article for better details.

1) Diagnose the Competing Commitment where there is an examination of: a) the change we state we want, b) the commitment required  to realize the stated change, c) the undermining behaviors that are disabling the stated change, d) an imagining of performing the  commitment (from b) along with an observation of the thinking, (uncomfortable) feeling & actions this calls up, and e) an examination of the worrisome outcome we are working to prevent when we engage in undermining behaviors. This “aha” insight contains the "BIG Assumption".  

2) Identify the Big Assumption, that generates our competing commitment. Do so by creating a sentence which inverts the competing commitment and reveals what we are really afraid of. For instance, I have a commitment to publish a book and on doing this exercise realize that publishing a book conflicts with my commitment to assuring that I do not make a “public" mistake. This explains why the book is still not published. Realization of this assumption helps as knowing what my conflicting commitment is, I can better choose to choose a more important commitment. Big assumptions are so difficult to identify and forsake because they “create a disarming and deluding sense of certainty”, and certainty is where its at, until its not. 

3) Test & Replace the Big Assumption where one confirms, via direct experience, how much their Big Assumption is unconsciously controlling their behavior, and deliberately plans alternate behavior which support their stated commitment.

The author further makes the point that groups are as susceptible to commitment conflict as individuals. As you can imagine, getting individuals to work through this process is tough enough so getting groups through it is exponentially grueling, but fortunately not impossible.

To lend proper perspective, the author notes that this process takes several hours to work through and a long time to ultimately act on in terms of reversing the undermining behaviors which support the status quo.

The author acknowledges that “bringing these issues to the surface  and confronting them head-on is challenging and painful-yet tremendously effective. Ultimately this process is about "understanding the complexities of people’s behavior, guiding them through a productive process to bring their competing commitments to the surface, and helping them cope with the inner conflict that is preventing them from achieving their goals.”

Good stuff and goodness help us in applying it for ourselves and our organizations.


LifeSpeakLLC said...

A good summary of Bob Kegan's point of view. His work on adult development and the complexity of values should be required reading. Try "The Way We Talk Affects the Way We Work" and "In Over Our Heads."

All in service of more humanity in the work place.

Craig A. DeLarge said...

Thanks for these tips. I was not aware but I am on it. This matter of language creating our world and values driving our behavior is a rich area for consideration and too often neglected in our leadership strategies for ourselves and those who follow us.

LifeSpeakLLC said...

BTW, here's a great conversation w. Kegan.

If you get a chance, attend one of his clinics at the Mass. School of Professional Psychology in Boston.