Ever so often I hear the claim "people resist change". It is a rooted belief, and is being used to explain both the difficulties of executing a change process as well as the failure of a change process to achieve the desired results.
How do we know that people resist change - it is quite simple, we propose a change and they do not accept it. Another symptom that drives the belief is that while implementing the change, even when it was initially accepted, people do not do what is expected of them for implementing the change and raise their observations out loud, or in their actions. For a second here, should we not consider the possibility that the change we propose is not good enough? Maybe even wrong? Or at least, wrongly presented? That the implementation process has faults in it? But this is not the subject of this post. This post is about the way we accept and participate in big, meaningful changes.
My personal take on people, is that most of us are driven by the desire to grow. Some want to grow their wealth, others their knowledge, others their influence and so on. Growth, as we all understand, cannot be achieved and sustained by continuing to do the same things we have been doing, it mandates change. Thus, the claim "people resist change" seems to me to be equivalent to claiming "people resist living". Saying that people resist change is like saying "people are dumb", of course not us (the change initiators).
Around the belief that people resist change, along the years, many have developed processes for overcoming the resistance. These processes have a few common underlying assumptions. One of the key assumptions is that people resist changes that were formulated, chosen and planned by others. Therefore, many of the the above mentioned processes use techniques for getting people involved. Getting them to be part of the change, and thus assume ownership. As much as there is evidence that we are owning changes we invented, I seriously doubt this is the most effective way to successfully lead change. Especially when considering a substantial one.
How do we make meaningful decisions? Meaningful choices? When we decide to get married, do we go through a process of defining what are the characteristics of the ideal spouse? Short list candidates? Evaluate against the criteria? Clearly getting married is a huge change in our lives, clearly it has huge uncertainty. And clearly, even though we believe we made the choice here, we (mostly) did not.
When looking at the big changes in our lives, it is more common than not, that the change decision was made by others and we had no say in it, the change process was designed by others and we had no contribution to it, and it carries enormous uncertainty for us. All the ingredients that indicate we should have resisted the proposed change, but nevertheless not only we did not, we actually looked forward to this change and embraced it with enthusiasm.
Think about going to elementary school, high school, getting married, having kids, taking a mortgage, going to the army (in Israel compulsory at the age of 18), being promoted at work, etc. - all meaningful decisions, all meaningful changes in our lives. What typifies these changes is that the decision to change, the change itself and its process were primarily made by others, nevertheless the night before we enter high school we can't sleep, we look forward to the new life that will start tomorrow. So much of it is unknown, nevertheless we are thrilled about this new beginning. Why?
I believe it closes the loop with the statement at the beginning of this post - people want to grow. But for growth to be considered growth two conditions must be met - the first, I - the person undergoing the change must acknowledge that the specific change is leading growth and equally important is that those that their opinion matters to me, also acknowledge that the specific change is growth.
When we enter elementary school, everyone knows and acknowledges - it is a symbol of growth. Similar all the meaningful changes in life mentioned above are clearly socially accepted as growth. Even marriage, having kids or buying a house, which may seem as a choice we made ourselves, is mostly a result of a social acceptance. We may have chosen the time and the spouse, but not the change itself. It is yet another socially accepted acknowledgement of growth.
When dealing with "big" changes, meaningful ones, leading the change successfully does not necessitates necessarily involvement, it does necessitate clear social acceptance of the change, as growth. This will create commitment, motivation and enthusiasm, while the rest of the processes will, at best, lead to participation.