So, Why Do People Actually Resist All Attempts at Change? – John Kotter Provides a Clue

This is what we know.

People resist change.
They really resist change.
And yet, they need to change. They really need to change.

So – they need to change; they know that they need to change; they want to want to change… but they resist change, and are almost always led “kicking and screaming” into any change.

And, sometimes — more often than not — needed changes simply are not made. And the bad ripple effects of this “non-change” are costly, in every way.  Probably greater than the cost of any changes that are made.  In other words, it may cost more to not change than it does to change.

This is such a truism that we all know it, we’ve all experienced it, but… we haven’t found a fix.

And, maybe, we are as guilty as the next person over there who resists change so strongly.

I think if we could understand why we are so resistant, we might do a better job actually changing our ability to change when we need to. (And, we are always needing to make some, to many more than some, changes).

So, here’s a clue from John Kotter’s latest book, Accelerate:xlr8-by-john-p.-kotter

People cling to their habits and fear loss of power and stature.      

It’s the last part to that sentence – “they fear loss of power and stature” — that is revealing.

People know their place in the world; in their neighborhoods, their churches; and certainly, in their organizations. Chances are, they have worked had to get to where they are. “I am a manager.” And, whether they know it or not, whether they realize it or not, they do not want to move back down a single notch from their current place in the world. And so, when anything/anyone “threatens their place in the hierarchy,” they resist with all their might.

{A side observation.  There are plenty of articles asking what is motivating Vladimir Putin, re. Crimea and Ukraine.  One theory — he is trying to reclaim Russia’s “rightful place in the world.”  He misses Russia’s place in the hierarchy}.

I realize that this is not a new insight. Kenneth Burke, in my view, said it best, in his Definition of Human” (he first called it his “Definition of Man”):

Man is the symbol-using (symbol-making, symbol-misusing) animal…goaded by the spirit of hierarchy

Goaded by the spirit of hierarchy.  “I’m not changing because it could cost me my place in the hierarchy – and I would lose power and stature.”

Now, I don’t know the solution to this. John Kotter tells us one way to change and adapt the structure of the organization in this book (a good book), but he does not quite tell us what to do with the issue of people “losing their power, their stature, their place in the hierarchy” in the process.

And, until we can figure that out, any change that threatens someone’s place, whether from without or within, will be resisted, and resisted, and resisted…

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