Resistance is Futile

For Star Trek fans, the title of this blog will feel familiar. The show’s alien species, the Borg, made the saying “resistance is futile” famous in popular culture. The saying is a core concept in the Borg’s quest for perfection through a forced assimilation of individuals.

These forced assimilations have no place in the real world, but sometimes organizational change initiatives might feel like the Borg is in control. It does not have to be this way.

When organizations undertake change initiatives, they are answering three questions:

  1. What to change?
  2. To what to change to?
  3. How to make the change happen?

The first two questions are typically easy to answer. It’s question three that usually stumps individuals and organizations. And it’s question three where resistance is usually most prevalent.

Resistance to change occurs when one or more “layers of resistance” are not addressed during the change process. These layers of resistance arise in any of the above questions (or phases) and involve inadequate resolution of one or more of the following situations :

  • Lack of agreement on the problem
  • Lack of agreement on a possible direction for a solution
  • Lack of agreement that the solution will truly address the problem
  • Concern that the solution will lead to new undesirable side effects (“Yes, but…”)
  • Lack of a clear path around obstacles blocking the solution
  • Lack of follow-through even after agreement to proceed with the solution (unverbalized fear or concerns)

When there is resistance to change, astute leaders take time to address the layers of resistance to gain (or re-gain) support for change. They do this by demonstrating a whole-system view to problem root cause and solutions. Francis S. Patrick of Focused Performance shares excellent solutions for resistance to change by applying Theory of  Constraints Thinking Processes.

In a nutshell, Patrick uses sufficiency and necessity logic as well as tree diagrams to address each layer of resistance. For example, “If…then…because…” explains why situations exist or why we believe particular actions will result in certain outcomes. Further, using “In order to…, we must…,” he associates requirements with desired outcomes.

The thinking tools are an excellent way to encourage collaboration and dialogue, resulting in common sense outcomes for all participants. They also help link the three questions of change into a seamless process that provide meaningful and powerful improvements in the organization.

By using Theory of Constraints thinking to implement change, not only is resistance eliminated, but individuals will not feel as if resistance is futile. Nor will assimilation feel like such a bad thing!