This month I feel it worthwhile focusing on Managing Change as currently Scouting in Queensland is faced with the possibility of enormous change in the coming few years. Leadership is about change, but what is a leader to do when faced with ubiquitous resistance? Resistance to change manifests itself in many ways, from foot-dragging and inertia to petty sabotage to outright rebellions. The best tool for leaders of change is to understand the predictable, universal sources of resistance in each situation and then strategize around them.
“It’s not because things are difficult that we don’t try, it’s because we don’t try that things are difficult“ – Seneca
For successful change…
Success in developing people requires the outcome of several activities that have themselves succeeded. An organisation taking on the challenge of developing people needs to be aware that it’s going to be following new paths, that it will probably alter some of its’ practices, it will certainly have to try new things. In short, it is going to risk making “changes”.
These so-called organisational changes should have two goals:
- Improving the organisation’s capacity to adapt to future changes in its environment. This means aligning itself better with changes in society, communicating the values of Scouting better, an improved strategy for recruiting, supporting and retaining adult volunteers, etc.
- Supporting behavioural changes amongst all adult volunteers. Here, too, the aim is to focus the attention of individual adult volunteers on being effective with the things they do and the interaction they have with other members.
We have to realise that this second aim is vital. The success or failure of an organisation lies with its members. Structural or technical changes can only have a limited effect on the effectiveness of an organisation. On the face of it, there is no argument about the need to make changes to take account of the drop in our numbers. Unfortunately many of our adult volunteers are resistant to change, this is normal for most organisations. Such resistance can be explicit (resignation) or implicit (demoralisation) and its effects can be obvious or subtle. Often they combine, which increases their effect.
Why do we resist change?
We offer the following response model based on five possible causes, there can obviously be others.
Resistance by the individual
Selective attention and memory
We tend only to select the things that conform to our view of the world. We only read or listen to what matches our preconceptions and we even erase from our memory anything that could cause us to adopt new attitudes. We water down the content of a communication if it does not fit our way of thinking. All trainers recognise this mechanism as they often hear, “This is an excellent method but, unfortunately, it doesn’t suit my activity”. In other words, any transformation that could suddenly disturb our perception will probably be rejected.
To meet the demands of our daily environment we all develop a series of responses that appear comfortable and comforting to us. These we could call our habits. Therefore, departing from these habits means risking the unknown. This is far from comforting and naturally uncomfortable. We will certainly avoid this source of discomfort unless we can immediately be shown the benefit of the new departure for us.
Our social nature makes us “socially” dependent beings. Individual independence is supposed to be one of the goals of people’s upbringing and maturity, it manifests itself in the ability to decide and act freely. But even the most independent individuals are not totally independent of other people. At the same time, when dependence increases to the detriment of free choice, people will resist any change unless they are provided with a way to adopt and accept it themselves. Awareness of the social fabric (the position and relationships of dependence and power within an organisation) can be valuable in overcoming certain types of opposition.
Fear of the unknown
Besides the discomfort mentioned above, change is a source of genuine anxiety for some people. Since change in itself naturally brings about uncertainty, it might cause consequences that are potentially unpleasant or worse. It would be foolish to ignore these irrational reactions in any strategy that, at times, may take on the aspect of a juggernaut (large moving object needing time to change direction).
Security and regression
When faced with today’s world that is for them, difficult, uncertain and even “hellish”, people sometimes head off in search of “a lost paradise” represented by a past that was “happy, reassuring, perfect, etc.”. Change sometimes doesn’t allow people to find the old habits and reference points that they would like to hang on to.
So, whatever the cause of resistance and whatever its source, the important thing is to understand that it exists and that it can have a real, negative impact on the introduction of change. Wise leaders will try to identify the reasons for resistance to change and try to see how they can limit their effect and eliminate them where possible rather than pretend that they are only of limited importance. Otherwise they will have to devote enormous effort into getting acceptance of the changes they are proposing.