Organizational Change is Hard

The last three months have taught us that change is hard. Organizational change is hard too. I’ve worked on teams that had that, “high-five!” energy.  It’s amazing. And the business results are often extraordinary, with creativity that’s off the charts. But even though most of us want that energy, engaging in the change that could make it happen is hard. We talk a good game, but don’t execute.
organizational change
Three things have come up for me around organizational change and our resistance to it:  Habits, Perspectives and Identity.

Changing Habit – Staying home to stop the spread of coronavirus was like landing in a foreign country. Boy did it drive home how much we depend on habits to get us through even our least productive day. Habits make us more efficient.  That’s good. But when we want to change, they present formidable obstacles.

Different Perspectives – Remember the gold versus blue dress debate a few years ago?  People on-line were enraged!  The photo in this post is another famous example. The last two weeks with the Black Lives Matter movement brought up how hard it can be to see things from another perspective. Imagine what that does to collaboration, especially when people build strategies around their different assumptions. Once we’re invested, we fight hard for our positions, and selectively look for evidence that supports our point of view.

Identity – Identity may be the most resistant to change. When we have to consider that our point of view, which drives our actions, could have a negative impact on someone else, it’s tough. Most of us identify with being good people, and with being right. Having that challenged goes to a place we’d like to avoid.

In a recent session, two team members got into a tense exchange that ended with, “Fine. We’ll do it your way.”  Their boss, who was also on the call, reached out the next day to tell me she was surprised to hear backlash. She told me that she had taken those words at face value. She was in a perspective driven by a strong value that says, “Onward and upward!  Let’s get it done,” and that is core to her identity. So she didn’t pick up on the tension that others did. To her credit, she wanted to explore it more so she and the team could learn from it and resolve it.

Taking a fresh look at the habits, perspectives and identity is challenging. Organizational change is hard, but it’s also doable. And it’s worth it. I believe that we have a unique opportunity to drive real change right now, in the world, and in our workplaces. When we are connected, open and share deep trust, we can do amazing things. There’s a great book called Immunity to Change by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, that talks about the role of identity in our resistance to change. Take a look.

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