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Taking Advantage of Resistance to Change (and the TOC Thinking Processes) to Improve Improvements (Part 1)


This article was originally presented at and included in the proceedings of the Institute of Industrial Engineers (IIE) Solutions Conference (Dallas, May, 2001) by Francis S. "Frank" Patrick of Focused Performance. It is broken down here into sections for ease of reading on-line. For off-line reading and sharing, it can be downloaded in Adobe Acrobat (pdf) format at resistancetext.pdf. The associated presentation handout can also be downloaded at resistanceslides.pdf.

Abstract

Like “beauty and the beholder,” resistance to change is in the eye of the proposer. The proponent of a change may perceive as resistance what his or her audience considers careful assessment and scrutiny. Almost every change requires the cooperation, collaboration, and co-ownership of others. It is only by giving the assessment and scrutiny of these people full consideration that the change can expect full acceptance. The Theory of Constraints (TOC) Thinking Processes provide a coordinated set of tools to help take full advantage of “resistance to change” to not only improve the original proposal, but also assure effective implementation.

Introduction

Everyone in an organization is a salesperson, selling his or her ideas, proposals, and recommendations. Even a CEO, president, or owner needs to achieve buy-in of key strategies and tactics from the necessary people if they are to succeed. That success, i.e., the implementation of meaningful improvement in an organization, requires answering three questions: what to change, to what to change to, and how to make the change happen.

Even if an improvement with real potential has been identified by appropriately addressing the first two of these questions, how the third question is dealt with can often make or break the effort. It's not just an issue of technical solutions and project management. It also involves dealing with the dreaded “resistance to change.”

The proponent or champion of a solution faces a dilemma. Does s/he spend limited time and attention on refining the details of the solution or on the politics and buy-in necessary for its success? With the belief that a “perfect” solution will minimize resistance, the focus is usually on the former, setting oneself up to be blindsided by what is felt to be unexpected and unreasonable resistance.

Fortunately, it has been shown that resistance to change can be understood in terms of a series of six layers that consistently and regularly appear. These layers are associated with the three basic questions for change and their objectives and have been identified as…

Questions Objectives Layers of Resistance
What to change? Situation assessment, description of “current reality,” and identification of the core problem or conflict and assumptions that sustain it.

Diagnosis, systemic root cause analysis.

1) Lack of agreement on the problem
To what to change to? Verbalization of vision/solution, description of strategy to attain the desired state, and avoidance of undesirable side effects.

Prescription, decision-making, and solution development.

2) Lack of agreement on a possible direction for a solution

3) Lack of agreement that the solution will truly address the problem

4) Concern that the solution will lead to new undesirable side effects (“Yes, but…”)

How to make the change happen? Development of detailed plans and tactics that will clarify what needs to happen. Synchronization of the efforts of the group in the implementation of the strategy.

Planning, team-building, and leadership

5) Lack of a clear path around obstacles blocking the solution

6) Lack of follow-through even after agreement to proceed with the solution (unverbalized fear or concerns)

While not all of these “layers of resistance” arise all the time, when they do they tend to do so in the order listed. Or at least, they should be addressed in that order. After all, there is no point in figuring out how to overcome obstacles and implement a solution (Layer 5) if the idea of the solution itself is not understood and accepted (Layers 2, 3, and 4). The existence of this consistency allows for an equally consistent response, and therefore a systematic process to address it.

The ability to acquire necessary cooperation, collaboration, and even co-ownership is enhanced if the change agent understands the layers of resistance that are usually encountered, and the appropriate steps to take and tools to use within each when communicating the proposal. But the benefit of addressing the layers in the right way goes far beyond simply overcoming resistance. What is often not appreciated is that this same resistance is an invaluable source of improvements to the original proposal. You can take advantage of this benefit with a logical process that is geared to do so, whether starting at the beginning of building a solution or when communicating it for buy-in.

For example, while carefully considering all the layers during the construction of a solution will contribute to the completeness of the solution, layers 4 (“Yes, but…”) and 5 (“We can't do it because…”) are particularly fertile ground for the enhancement of a proposed solution. For example, active solicitation of things that can go wrong (the reservations regarding undesirable side effects) will not only complete the solution by allowing additional pieces to be included to head off those side effects. The involvement of those offering the concerns and possible solutions bring more people into “ownership” roles for the final proposal. The same thing goes for layer 5 - obstacles to implementation. If one can generate or identify more obstacles, the resulting implementation plan will be that much more complete. Those obstacles will exist whether identified or not. It’s a far, far better thing to identify and plan for them than to be surprised by them.

Too often, the developer of a proposal is so focused on the good things that will come from it s/he will overlook or even worse, minimize the side effects and obstacles. Like beauty and the beholder, “unexpected and unreasonable” resistance is in the eyes of the proposer; to those “resisting,” they are merely offering careful inquiry and scrutiny or something they are being asked to support. A careful, logical approach to constructing and communicating the proposal for collaboration will go a long way to incorporating this input and making the solution better and easier to implement.

To take advantage of resistance, a “whole-system” view is required as well as an appreciation for the interconnectedness of diverse symptoms and true “root-cause” problems. The Theory of Constraints (TOC) and the Thinking Processes that are part of the TOC body of knowledge provide just such a view and a set of powerful tools that can be used to not only address resistance but also use it to enhance the solution beyond the original concept.

The TOC Thinking Processes are logical “thinking and communication tools” which, while they can be used in standalone situations, together form a coherent problem-solving and change management process. Their generic purpose is to translate intuition into a format that can be discussed rationally, questioned without offense, and modified to more fully reflect the understanding of a situation. They are used for the construction of solutions to problems as well as to facilitate communication, collaboration, and consensus among those that must be involved in its resolution.

Underlying Concepts of the TOC Thinking Processes

Prior to introducing the specific thinking tools and their relationship to the three questions and the six layers of resistance, I should really describe two overarching “meta-tools” that are at the core of the tools — sufficiency logic and necessity logic.

Sufficiency logic consists of “If... then... because...” descriptions of why situations exist or why we believe particular actions will result in certain outcomes. Linkages of sufficiency logic are also frequently expressed as “If... and if… and if…, then...” as in the case when it takes the confluence of three pre-existing conditions (the “ifs”) to result in the outcome (the “then”).

Necessity logic often takes the form of “In order to..., we must...,” describing requirements or prerequisites associated with desired outcomes. These requirements may not be sufficient in and of themselves to result in the outcome, but their existence is seen as necessary for it. Linkages based on necessity logic can often be augmented with a “because...” factor as well, which is a very powerful mechanism for surfacing beliefs or assumptions that underlie why we feel we must have A in order to have B.

The Thinking Processes, based on these two logical constructs, get their power from the fact that the human mind seems to be practically “hard-wired” with an innate understanding of when the “if-thens” or the “in-order-to, we-musts” make sense or not, lending themselves to an ease of communication, scrutiny, and revision. They also benefit from graphical formats and presentation, so the mind can readily take in not only the words of the various entities, but also the spatial relationships implied by connecting arrows.

The tools serve to communicate or verbalize the intuition of the participants in a way that lends itself to collaboration and dialogue and results in a description of the “common sense” of the participants.


This article was originally presented at and included in the proceedings of the Institute of Industrial Engineers (IIE) Solutions Conference (Dallas, May, 2001) by Francis S. "Frank" Patrick of Focused Performance. It is broken down here into sections for ease of reading on-line. For off-line reading and sharing, it can be downloaded in Adobe Acrobat (pdf) format at resistancetext.pdf. The associated presentation handout can also be downloaded at resistanceslides.pdf.

Part 1 -- Abstract, Introduction, and Underlying Concepts of the TOC Thinking Processes

Part 2 -- Layer 1 -- Lack of agreement on the problem
-- The Core Conflict Cloud (CCC) and the Current Reality Tree (CRT)

Part 3 -- Layer 2 -- Lack of direction for a solution
-- Evaporating the Core Conflict Cloud

Part 4 -- Layer 3 -- Lack of agreement that the solution will truly address the problem
-- The Future Reality Tree (FRT)

Part 5 -- Layer 4 -- Concern that the solution will lead to new undesirable side effects
-- The Negative Branch Reservation (NBR)

Part 6 -- Layer 5 -- Lack of a clear path around obstacles to the solution
-- The Prerequisite Tree (PRT) and Transition Tree (TT)

Part 7 -- Layer 6 -- Lack of follow-through even after agreement to proceed with the solution
-- Unverbalized fear or concerns

Part 8 --Summary -- Layers of Resistance and Thinking Process tools to deal with them
-- What to change?
-- To what to change to?
-- How to make the change happen?


Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work. - Peter Drucker

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