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Virginia Satir: Family Therapy

You may be wondering why the Management Pocketblog would take a look at a woman whose principal contribution was in the field of social work, relationships, and family therapy. The answer is that others have found in her work valuable tools that can help you in your leadership and communication roles.

Virginia Satir
Virginia Satir

Short Biography

Virginia Pagenkopf was born in 1916, in Wisconsin, and went to high school in Milwaukee. She graduated from the Milwaukee State Teachers college in 1932, with a degree in teaching and started started work as a teacher. There, she started visiting students in their homes, and meeting families.

A few years later, she retrained as a social worker at University of Chicago and received her masters degree in 1948. Satir went into private practice, conducting her first family session in 1951. Towards the end of the decade she moved to California, and co-founded the Mental Research Institute (MRI) in Palo Alto, California, where she became the Training Director, and started the first formal family therapy training program.

Satir’s innovation and eminence as a family therapist are well documented elsewhere. There is a thorough biography and much additional material on the Virginia Satir Global Network site.

Satir died in September 1988.

Three Aspects of Satir’s Work that Managers can Benefit from

At the heart of Satir’s family therapy was powerful listening and questioning. It therefore came to the attention of the founders of Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP), John Grinder and Richard Bandler. They studied Satir, documented her process, and co-wrote a book, Changing with Families, with her.

The ‘Meta-Model’

The model they created by observing Satir’s questioning is one of the foundation stones of NLP. Whilst it comes in and out of fashion, popular books about NLP are widely used by managers and professionals looking to be more influential.

NLP also receives mixed reviews for its efficacy, but the meta-model, as a codification of Satir’s questioning approach, is one of its stronger aspects. In the model, practitioners listen for clues in what people say and the way they say it, to help understand the presuppositions that may be in their minds. These filters come in three types:

  1. Generalisations, in which we take an event or situation, and presuppose it is more widely applicable, or applies in a specific circumstance, for which there is no evidence.
  2. Deletions, in which we unwittingly ignore some of the facts, feelings, or evidence and therefore place too much reliance on one part of what we observe, so biasing our beliefs and behaviours.
  3. Distortions, in which we make assumptions that are not founded in the evidence. These are the most insidious of the filters, because they cause us to assign meanings or causes to actions and events, which are unhelpful and not accurate.

The Satir Categories

These are five types of behaviour that communicate to others non-verbally. Originally Satir categorised these behaviours for their effect on family dynamics and, in particular, on disputes. For managers, if you understand the postures that go with these attitudes, then you can deploy them to better assist your communication, by supporting your message with congruent non-verbal behaviours. The five categories are:

  1. The Blamer
    A dominance posture that asserts power and authority. It can be aggressive, even offensive, and signals that the other person has done something wrong and is being called to account. It is characterised by a square-on posture, leaning in to the accused person and often supported by a pointy finger.
  2. The Placater
    This is almost the opposite – a submissive, maybe even pleading posture. It signals weakness, so only use it when you intend to be confrontational. The weaker your true position or status, the less you should use it. It is characterised by a direct appeal to the other person, with palms upwards.
  3. Computer
    This behaviour suggests rational thought, and people therefore often use it to disguise emotion. Also use it to slow a discussion down, by signalling you are considering what you have heard. The vital postural clue is that one hand supports the chin, with the other supporting it, crossed over the body. The hand supporting the chin often has a finger pointed upwards to the temple.
  4. Distractor
    Use this posture to attract attention, and create a non-threatening, humorous mood. But be careful, because it can undermine a serious message, and also signal lack of candidness – even untruths. The key to this posture is asymmetry – often very marked.
  5. Leveller
    Use this posture to calmly assert control. Slow down, stand to your full height, and face your audience. This posture convey honesty, integrity and openness. Gently move your hands downwards, together, with your hands open, palms downwards.
The Five Satir Categories - Virginia Satir
The Five Satir Categories – Virginia Satir. Click to enlarge.

Virginia Satir’s Model of Change

The last model is the one I find most useful.

People expect, when they plan organisational change that, at the point of change, things will start to get better, and settle rapidly into a new, improved equilibrium. Satir said no. She identified five stages of change:

Late Status Quo

This stage is marked by established norms of behaviour. The situation may not perform as well as it should, but everyone feels comfortable. Encourage people to test their assumptions and seek ideas from outside the group.

Resistance

The perceived threat of change triggers resistance, as people feel their power and their control challenged. Help people to evaluate their feelings and overcome their instinct to deny, avoid or blame.

Chaos

Now that things are changing, the group is distracted from the day-to-day, and performance dips. Create a safe environment that enables people to acknowledge and explore their concerns. Avoid the temptation to rush this stage with instant solutions.

Integration

Gradually the new ways of working bed in, and people start to feel back in control. The group will start to iron out problems, and find new norms of behaviour. Be supportive and focus on recognising and celebrating successes.

New Status Quo

All is well again (until next time) and people feel energized by their success. Help people feel safe in continuing to learn and improve their performance.

The Satir Model of Change - Virginia Satir
The Satir Model of Change – Virginia Satir
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Peter Senge: Learning Organisation

If business strategy is the search for competitive advantage, then the Journal of Business Strategy would seemed to have endorsed one strategy above all others. In naming Peter Senge as their ‘Strategist of the Century’ they implicitly set his concept of The Learning Organisation on a strategic pedestal. Indeed, they described Senge as someone who ‘had the greatest impact on the way we conduct business today’.

Peter Senge

Short Biography

Peter Senge was born in California, in 1947. He attended his local university, Stanford, where he earned a BS in Engineering. He moved to MIT where he studied Social Systems Modelling for his MS, followed by a move to the MIT Sloan School of Management in 1970, where he gained a PhD in management that he completed in 1978. He stayed on, continuing his research into how we learn, within organisations.

His research culminated in his best-selling synthesis of these ideas, ‘The Fifth Discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization‘. This book has been rated by Harvard Business Review as one of the seminal management books.

His subsequent work has built on this theme:

What is The Learning Organisation?

The learning organisation is one that encourages continued learning for both groups and individuals, as a source of competitive advantage. People at all levels from shop floor to senior management will be continually developing their skill levels, knowledge and experience. It is like building an institutional ‘growth mindset’ by increasing the creative capacity.

When Senge published The Fifth Discipline in 1990, the ideas were not new. Indeed, Senge acknowledges his debts, especially to Chris Argyris, and his 1978 book ‘On Organizational Learning‘; and to Arie de Geus. The term “Learning Organization’, which Senge has made his own, was coined in 1987 by Bob Garratt, in his book ‘The Learning Organization and the Need for Directors Who Think‘.

In The Fifth Discipline, Senge describes five core components of personal development. This book is often viewed as highly theoretical, so his follow-up Fifth Discipline Fieldbook set out practical answers to the questions he received about ‘how’ to implement these ideas.

The five means of development, that create a Learning Organization, are:

  1. Personal Mastery
    Individual, continuous, life-long learning. Senge also emphasises the importance of spiritual development. This, he argues, allows us to understand the tension between reality and vision. He suggests this is the source of creativity.
  2. Mental Models
    Senge suggests that we carry implicit mental models of our world and our organizations. We need to understand and challenge them. In the Fieldbook, he offers the tool of a ladder of inference, that climbs up from observation of data, to selection of the data, to applying meanings to them, to making assumptions, from which we draw conclusions, from which we adopt beliefs, that drive our choices of actions. This process helps us to analyse our values, beliefs and actions.
  3. Shared Vision
    When team members create a vision that they share and jointly own, this brings them together, serves as a basis for creativity, and readies them for change.
  4. Team Learning
    Senge believes that group development will outpace individual development in driving team performance. He also distinguishes between dialogue (an exploratory process) and discussion (a process for narrowing and selecting from options).
  5. Systems Thinking
    This is the ‘fifth discipline’. It requires us to see an organization as an inter-connected whole, with a complex set of inter-relationships. Processes do not work as simple chains of cause and effect, but as complex interacting feedback loops that reinforce or counteract each other.

Two Videos of Dr Senge Describing his Central Ideas

Introduction to Organizational Learning

Introduction to Systems Thinking

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John Kotter: Leadership and Change

John Kotter was a star academic from an early age and is now regarded as one of the leading thinkers, researchers and consultants on organisational change. He is equally known for his earlier work on leadership. But for Kotter, the two cannot be separated:

“Leadership produces change.”

Kotter says. And change is the function of leadership.

John Kotter

Short biography

John Kotter was born in 1947, in San Diego, California. He moved to the east coast to gain his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from MIT (1968), his SM in management from MIT’s Sloan School of Management (1970), and a DBA from Harvard in organisational behaviour (1972).

Kotter stayed on at Harvard, becoming a tenured professor at 33, in 1980, having already published four books. It was his 1982 book, The General Managers, and the accompanying Harvard Business Review article, that started to make his name outside of academic circles. This set out the need for a general manager to master both the competencies needed to run their business and the relationship-building skills needed to extend effective networks throughout the wider organisation.

In a series of books, Kotter established himself as adept at distilling direct observation of what happens inside an organisation, into general principles that others can learn from. Key books include:

In 2001, Kotter retired from his full time faculty role and became professor emeritus, retaining Harvard Business School’s Konosuke Matsushita Chair of Leadership, which he has held since 1990. in 1997, he published a biography of the Japanese entrepreneur who endowed the chair: ‘Matsushita: Lessons from the 20th Century’s Most Remarkable Entrepreneur‘.

Kotter’s current activity focuses around Kotter International, the consultancy he co-founded in 2008. He is reputedly one of the most in-demand and highest paid speakers on the US corporate speaking circuit, with fees allegedly starting at $75,000. You can hear a flavour of him as a speaker on his YouTube Channel.

Leadership and Management

Kotter’s observations led him to concur with Warren Bennis that there are differences between management and leadership. While managers’ roles include organising, controlling, planning and budgeting, Kotter argued, in A Force for Change, that there are three principal roles for a business leader:

  1. Setting direction for the future of their business
  2. Aligning their people to that direction
  3. Motivating and inspiring people to move in that direction

For Kotter, then, leadership is all about change. More than most of his contemporary leadership commentators, Kotter veers towards the ‘leaders are born’ end of the scale, arguing that the best exhibit traits that go beyond what they can learn: energy, intellect, drive and integrity. But he does acknowledge that experiences shape leadership, noting that diverse and tangential career opportunities help shape leaders beyond the narrow confines of management.

Leading Change

Kotter’s transformative book (and the most reprinted ever Harvard Business Review article that accompanied it: Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail) was ‘Leading Change‘. This set out to show that managing change is not enough; change needs to be led. The book is widely regarded as a classic in the business/management field and was one of Time Magazine’s 25 most influential business management titles (along with books by many of the Management Thinkers covered in this blog series).

in the article and book, Kotter sets out an 8 step process for leading change, and argues that companies fail to deliver successful transformation when they do not pursue all of the steps, in the sequence, with sufficient attention. These steps embody much earlier thinking – in them, we can see the shadow of Kurt Lewin’s Freeze Phases, for example. What makes them particularly valuable is the clarity with which Kotter sets out the tasks leaders face, and the illustrative examples he gives.

In 2002, he co-authored Heart of Change with Deloitte Consulting’s Dan Cohen, in which they focus on case studies to illustrate this further. I have a strong memory of Cohen presenting at a US conference I attended towards the end of my time with Deloitte. The clarity of this approach rang out for me.

To further clarify, Kotter then co-authored Our Iceberg is Melting with Holger Rathgeber. This book turned the whole 8-step process into an allegorical tale of a penguin who becomes aware of global warming and needs to influence change among his compatriots. Would that more climate campaigners could learn some of these lessons. I guess this book was targeted at the market that made Spencer Johnson’s ‘Who Moved my Cheese?‘ (another Time top 25 book) such a huge success. Whilst Cheese focuses on the personal effects of change, Iceberg teaches how to lead change.

The Eight Steps

  1. Establish a sense of urgency
  2. Create a guiding coalition
  3. Develop a vision and strategy
  4. Communicate the change vision
  5. Empower employees for broad-based action
  6. Generate short-term wins
  7. Consolidate gains and produce more change
  8. Anchor new approaches in the culture

Accelerate

2010’s book ‘Buy-In‘ set out to help leaders make their case, but it was Kotter’s latest, 2014 book, ‘Accelerate‘ that has moved his thinking forward. Yes, Kotter International uses slightly new terminology around the 8 steps, but the main change that Accelerate introduced was a greater sense of urgency to the process, the consequent need for concurrency of the steps, and a determination that complex organisations need to introduce elements of a more agile, entrepreneurial approach.

The comparison of the older and more recent approach is this:

Leading Change’s original 8-Step Process

  • Lead change in a rigid, sequential process
  • Create a small, powerful core group to drive change
  • Function within a traditional hierarchy
  • Focus on doing one new thing very well and then move onto the next thing

Accelerate’s new thinking

  • Run the eight steps concurrently and continuously
  • Form a large cohort of volunteers  from throughout all levels and divisions of the organization to drive the change
  • Create a network of change agents that can act in an entrepreneurial way, outside the traditional hierarchy, to respond in a more flexible, agile way
  • Constantly look for opportunities, and set up initiatives to capitalise on them rapidly

Kotter has stayed at the forefront of thinking about organisational leadership. He now argues that constant disruption from turbulent market shifts is the biggest challenge business leaders face. And agility is the skill they need. Perhaps not surprisingly, his HBR article ‘Accelerate!’ is another of their most widely requested reprints.

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Rosabeth Moss Kanter: Change Master

Rosabeth Moss Kanter is one of the foremost academics working in the management arena. Her academic CV is second to none, and it is the sophistication of her insights and the depth of her research that have earned her the huge respect she has garnered. But hers are not merely incremental ideas – her work has charted some of the biggest issues facing organisations from the 1970s to today.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter

 Short Biography

Rosabeth Moss was born in 1943 and grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. She was educated at the elite Bryn Mawr College, where she studied English and Sociology, where she also met her first husband, Stuart Kanter.  She graduated in 1964 and went on to earn an MA and PhD in Sociology, at the University of Michigan.

Following her PhD, Moss Kanter’s first academic appointment was at Brandeis University, as Assistant Professor of Sociology. She stayed there until 1977, during which time her first husband died and she married Barry Stein, with whom she later (1977) founded a management consultancy, called Goodmeasure Inc, to sell her consulting services to many of the largest US corporations.

1977 was a key year for Moss Kanter. She also moved to become a Professor of Sociology and Professor of Organisational Management at Yale, where she remained until 1986, when she moved to Harvard Business School as a Professor of Business Administration. From 1979 to 1986, she was also a Visiting Professor at the Sloane School of Management at MIT.

The centrality of 1977, however, is because it was the year that saw the publication of the first of Moss Kanter’s books – and one that made a huge impact. It was lauded in its own right and has been seen, in retrospect, as the first of a triptych of connected and hugely important works. We will look at them below.

As well as being an academic and consultant, Moss Kanter has a slew of prestigious awards,and is also notable as the last academic to edit the Harvard Business Review (1989-92) and as an advisor to presidential candidate Michael Dukakis.

But it is the breadth and depth of Moss Kanter’s work we need to focus on. And there is so much of note that we need to get started right away.

Moss Kanter’s Big-three Works

1977 saw the publication of a revolutionary book; Men and Women of the Corporation. It analyses the distribution of power within a large US corporation and how white men dominated, leaving women and ethnic minorities disempowered. Her research demonstrated that it was not the behaviours of women and minorities that created this power gap, but the very system within which they worked, and the structures of power and opportunity. At the time, this was a revolutionary insight. Moss Kanter showed the importance of creating change to empower everyone.

With the great pressures for change that she identified, we can see a logical progression in Moss Kanter’s next book, 1983’s The Change Masters: Corporate Entrepreneurs at Work. Shockingly, this astonishingly good and important book is out of print; to me, it is her most important. It describes how some companies and some individuals master the process of change through integrating and innovating, moving right to the edge of their capabilities, and benchmarking themselves against their aspirations, rather than against the status quo in their market place.  She refers to ‘New Entrepreneurs’; change masters within a business that radically improve it, rather than leaving and starting afresh somewhere else. They transform vision into reality. Once again, the concept of empowerment features strongly, as does the need for joined up networks of communication, and decentralisation of resources.

The third book in the triptych looks at the changes US corporations needed to make to remain competitive in the global environment of the 1980s and 90s. Published in 1989, ‘When Giants Learn to Dance‘ likens the global economy to a sporting competition. What struck me was her articulation of seven skills that characterise the most successful ‘business athletes’;

  1. ability to get results without authority, through influence alone
  2. competing positively, through co-operation, rather than negatively through aggression
  3. maintaining the highest ethical standards
  4. self confidence tempered by humility
  5. an understanding of the importance of process for getting things done
  6. relationship building, across functions, departments, and organisations
  7. achievement focus – what McClelland would describe as a high nAch

More Recent Work

It is only space, not a critique on the works themselves, that prevents me from detailing Moss Kanter’s works, from 1992’s ‘The Challenge of Organizational Change‘ to ‘Move: Putting America’s Infrastructure Back in the Lead‘, published a few months before this blog, in spring of 2015. Along the way, there have been:

A Summary of Moss Kanter’s Themes

Rosabeth Moss Kanter is notable as an academic of business, but her approach has always remained a staunchly sociological one. Her focus on empowerment has followed closely on that of previous thinkers in humanistic management and particularly echoes the work of Mary Parker Follett, whom she admires greatly. Like Follett, she takes a very much integrative attitude, valuing holistic management structures, rather than segmented corporations. This is a theme that comes out strongly in both Change Masters and Giants. She describes these as characteristics of a ‘post-entrepreneurial firm’, where innovation is the principle benefit of combining the the strength of a large organisation with the agility of a small one.

Her writing is characterised by three admirable characteristics that are often not found together: subtle and complex ideas, detailed research evidence, and a highly readable writing style.

The Advanced Leadership Initiative

I want to end with a short reference to Harvard University’s Advanced Leadership Initiative, which Moss Kanter leads, as Chair and Director. It aims to prepare ‘a leadership force of experienced leaders who can address challenging national and global problems in their next stage of life’. These are men and women who, after their primary income-earning years, want to contribute to community and public service for their next years of life, using the skills they already have, to make an impact on significant social problems, in health, welfare, children, and the environment. I know little more about it than this, but what a wonderful initiative. A kind of lower-key version of The Elders, I guess.

 


 

Moss Kanter talks about leadership as being about leading positive change in this 17 minute TED talk, ‘Six keys to leading positive change‘.

And more…

There is a good selection of short videos and articles by Rosabeth Moss Kanter, on some of her latest thinking, on the Big Think website.

 

 

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Taiichi Ohno: Lean Production

The engineer behind many aspects of the Toyota Production System (TPS) can justly be described as instrumental in creating one of the world’s great manufacturing businesses. But his influence goes far wider, with many of the management ideas that we take for granted originating as a part of the TPS. I promised you we’d look at him when we examined the lessons from his boss, Eiji Toyoda, so let’s see what we can learn from Taiichi Ohno.

Taiichi Ohno

 

Short Biography

Taiichi Ohno was born in China, where his father was working on the Manchuria Railway, in 1912, and grew up in the Aichi prefecture of Japan, attending the Nagoya technical High School. In 1932, he joined the Toyoda Automatic Loom Works, which had been established by Sakichi Toyoda, who was highly innovative in the looms he designed and built. When Toyoda sold off the loom business to a British company, he determined to invest the money in an automobile business, to be headed by his son, Kiichiro Toyoda.

Kiichiro Toyoda set out to learn from US motor manufacturers, and started manufacturing vehicles in 1936 and it was he who first introduced the idea of ‘Just in Time’. However, it was when Taiichi Ohno was tasked with increasing productivity that the company started to make the breakthroughs which would later form the groundwork for Toyota’s great commercial achievements of the 1960s onwards, under Eiji Toyoda.

In looking at Toyota’s productivity levels shortly after the war, Ohno realised that the gap in performance between Toyota and the top US manufacturers of a factor ten could not be due solely to a poor Japanese workforce. He considered that the significant factor was waste; ‘Muda’. As he experimented, and took on board Kiichiro Toyoda’s ideas of Just in Time production, he gradually, over the years from 1945 to the mid-1970s, built up a coherent set of principles and practices that has come to be known as the ‘Toyota Production System’.

Towards the end of his life, Ohno spoke and wrote extensively (most notably: ‘Toyota Production System: Beyond Large-Scale Production‘) about the TPS – perhaps more than his superiors really felt comfortable with. In doing so, he frequently used the metaphor of a supermarket to describe how Just in Time principles work. He had first seen, and been captivated by, supermarkets on a visit to the United States in 1956. Ohno died of heart failure in May 1990.

The Toyota Production System

The three principles at the heart of the the Toyota Production System are easy to state:

  1. Produce components just in time for their use (‘Just in Time’ production)
  2. Build quality in every part of the process (‘Jidoka’)
  3. Create one continuous process (the ‘Value Stream’)

Just in Time Production

As if the phrase Just in Time has not become well-enough known, it is supported by an idea and a practical tool that have each become central to manufacturing processes world-wide… and, indeed, to other business and organisational processes.

The first of these – and Ohno’s starting point for his reforms – is the idea of waste, or ‘Muda’. Ohno waged a systematic campaign to eliminate all possible forms of waste. In so doing, he identified the seven categories that are often known as the ‘Seven Wastes’.

  1. Defective Production – producing defective products
  2. Overproduction – producing more than is needed
  3. Waiting – idle, non-productive time
  4. Transporting – the wasted time and risks of damage or loss
  5. Inventory – holding unnecessary stock and therefore incurring capital costs
  6. Motion – the wear and tear and the accidents that arise in moving things around a plant
  7. Excessive Processing – over-specification of components, or unwanted functionality, for example

Some people add other wastes to Ohno’s original seven, most commonly placing Non-used employee talent (wasting skills) between number 3 and 4 in my ordering, so create the mnemonic acronym: DOWNTIME.

Ohno also developed a system of signboards that track progress of goods through the manufacturing process, which are called ‘Kanbans’. The kanban board is now widely used to track progress in projects throughout commerce, especially in managing software projects under agile project management methodologies.

Quality

Ohno examined every part of the manufacturing process and looked for ways to reduce errors, increase safety, and improve reliability. When he found them, he instituted rigorous staff training. The principle of building quality into everything is ‘Jidoka’. And, although he did not originate the idea of continuous improvement, known as ‘Kaizen’, Ohno’s concept of Jidoka involved daily improvement in a cycle of detecting problems, stopping production, removing the cause of the problem, and then incorporating the improvements into the standard workflow.

Another of Ohno’s greatest innovations is his problem solving methodology, the Five Whys, a way of getting at the root cause of a problem. This intelligent approach to stopping a machine when a fault arises and injecting human problem solving is Ohno’s idea of intelligent automation, or ‘autonomation’; ‘ninben no tsuita jidoka’.

Value Stream

Instead of seeing a factory as a series of inter-connected processes as Henry Ford had done, Ohno saw it as one continuous connected process. And ensuring that its efficiency is optimised is the idea of work levelling; ‘Heijunka’. This is central to eliminating waste, or Muda and is about rearranging (dynamically) the allocation of work to ensure that every resource is fully utilised at all times.

Introducing Change

Many of Ohno’s ideas seem obvious to us now but they did not at the time. And, inevitably, he encountered much resistance from the Toyota workforce. He employed one principal strategy to deal with this, that had two simple components: patience and persistence. Evolving the Toyota Production System took thirty years and, no doubt, it is ongoing today.

Adoption outside of Japan

Outside of Japan, Ohno’s ideas have been widely adopted and modified. The TPS is now more generally known as ‘lean manufacturing’ and the principles of lean thinking are increasingly being applied throughout the economy in sectors like retailing, services, telecommunications and even government service.

There does seem to be a difference, however, between Ohno’s and the two Toyodas’ philosophy and that of modern western businesses with which I am familiar. Here, we see organisations seeking to use lean principles to ‘sweat their assets’ to cut staff numbers and compel them to work harder to achieve greater productivity with fewer resources. Toyota instead thought that by making its process more efficient, its workforce could produce more without significant increases in the cost base, and so exploit new markets to create more profit.

At the heart of this is a different approach to pricing. The Western approach is to lower your cost base as low as you can, to determine a profit level, and then to sell at the price that these dictate.

'Typical' Western approach to pricing

Toyota’s success was build on a different philosophy: that the market fixes the price it will pay, and you optimise your processes to set your unit costs. Your profit is the difference.

'Successful' Toyota approach to pricing

Learn More

Toyota describes the Toyota Production System on their website, at: http://www.toyota-global.com/company/vision_philosophy/toyota_production_system/

 

 

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Resistance to Change

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


In the last couple of blogs, we have taken a look at how organisational change works in three phases, and how people respond to change. In this blog, we’ll focus on the ways in which people resist change and how you, as a manager, can deal with resistance.

Resistance is an inevitable part of people’s response to change and there are many reasons why people resist change. Dealing respectfully with that resistance requires that you can interpret the nature and reasons for the resistance, so the first skill to deploy will always be listening.

What you are listening for, will be clues as to what the source of the resistance is, so that you can address it properly. There are five levels of resistance, that lead to a simple, powerful model developed by Dr Mike Clayton (coincidentally, the author of this blog).

The Onion Model of Resistance

The Onion Model of Resistance

The Onion Model suggests five levels of resistance – each a little hotter and more emotionally charged than the last.

I don’t understand why we have to change

Resistance is often prompted by not recognising the need to change. People in organisations are usually only aware of pressures that impact upon them directly – leading them to say ‘we really must change this.’ But other pressures for change pass them by and it is therefore natural for them to question what they see as unnecessary change.

Address this form of resistance by showing why change is necessary

I don’t understand why this change

Even when people see the need for change, they also need to understand why you have chosen the response you have. You – or  another manager – have gone through a series of investigations and decisions to choose your response but others have been outside of that process and naturally wonder if there is a better way.

Address this form of resistance by showing why your response is the most appropriate one.

I don’t like this change

At times of change, people often focus on what they will lose, giving it more weight than the corresponding gains. This hard-wired ‘loss aversion’ is a powerful driver of resistance even when objectively, the loss is small and the benefit is great. People will also resist when objectively the loss to them outweighs the benefit, but here, there is nothing you can do aside from acknowledging, sympathising, and supporting your colleague.

Address perceived disadvantage by patiently demonstrating the benefit.

Another reason for this form of resistance is that people sometimes spot a flaw in your plan. They may be wrong or right, but you must listen and evaluate carefully, and be prepared to make changes if you conclude that your changes are not the best you can make them.

I don’t like change

Change is a part of life that we all live with, but some have a greater tolerance than others. Those who feel they don’t like change are again focusing on what they fear losing, or simply on the fear that they will not be able to cope.

Address this form of resistance by offering support to help people overcome their fears and thrive in the new environment.

I don’t like you

This is rarely as personal as it sounds. In times of change, people lash out at whoever they can, as a way of exercising old frustrations and grievances, because the stresses of change add to the pressures they are under.

Accept a small amount of this only and address this as the inappropriate behaviour that it is. Use assertive behaviour and your other skills for dealing with difficult behaviour to deal with it in the first instance. If, on occasion, this is not enough, use your organisation’s formal procedures.

Further Reading 

  1. The Handling Resistance Pocketbook

Other Pocketblogs you might find helpful

  1. How to Manage a Challenging Conversation
  2. Listening
  3. I can’t do that now
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