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The Future of the Future: Overcoming resistance to change

When an irresistible force meets an immovable object, "something’s gotta give." If you’re attempting to transform a legacy organization into an Enterprise of the Future, you’ll recognize that the irresistible force is the tidal wave of change brought about by an ever-flattening world. At the same time, you’ll likely find yourself in a sumo wrestling-style death match with the immovable object of deeply entrenched organizational culture.

Unless you carry a lot of weight, like signing everyone’s paycheck, you’re not likely to push your opponent out of the ring. So instead of sumo wrestling, consider organizational jujitsu as a way of bringing about change more quickly and gracefully. Shifting the weight of the resistance and turning it into positive momentum will focus the energy where it will do the most good.

How to change

Here are a few basic techniques to speed up the transformation process.

1. Focused concentration. Change cannot occur if energy is misdirected. Focused concentration is how the martial arts expert directs the maximum amount of energy toward the target. Vision and mission, strategy and objectives, performance drivers and key people, and processes and technologies must be closely aligned and in balance. Lack of organizational alignment means energy is being wasted in places not critical to the mission. Maximum transfer of energy comes from focusing your efforts only on those key areas having the greatest impact on mission success.

Force, speed and precision

Imagine your organization as a well-conditioned martial artist, whose stance is aimed at delivering full force, with speed and precision. Start by looking at your vision/mission and goals, and work your way down. Identify the gaps that are holding you back, and begin closing them, one by one. Then look for hidden opportunities that can give you even greater results, using what you already have.

2. Relentless repetition. Think of the movie, The Karate Kid. Wax on, wax off; wax on, wax off. Complete transformation can only occur when the desired change in behavior becomes habitual, to the point where you no longer have to think about it. For example, if you bill by the hour, you fill out a timesheet. It’s so engrained, you wouldn’t think of not doing it. In the same way, your key knowledge-intensive activities must be just as habitual, if you are to become a fast-learning Enterprise of the Future.

Unfortunately, here’s what often happens. You launch a new initiative. Plans are written, motivational rallies held, workshops and training sessions conducted. People are energized. Yet the execution doesn’t follow. Soon, everyone begins to fall back on their old habits, as they get caught up in the day-to-day pressures of crises, deadlines and full e-mail boxes. That’s where repetition comes in. As the leading change agent, you must continue to bang the drum relentlessly. And if you’re not focused, your message will quickly get lost among all the distractions. A clear theme, with a clear result, communicated many times over (as often as it takes), will eventually take hold. Wax on, wax off.

3. Living embodiment. Any worthwhile martial arts instructor will tell you the #1 rule is to avoid conflict at all costs. Mahatma Gandhi was perhaps the ultimate change agent to apply this principle. He put it best when he said, "We must become the change we want to see." You will have a much better chance of convincing others to change if you, like Gandhi, embody those changes in your actions.

Concentration, repetition, embodiment. Here’s a simple example: capturing, sharing and applying lessons-learned. If you can fill out a trip report, you can fill out a report that’s potentially 10 or maybe 100 times more valuable. Lessons-learned can save you money by eliminating the waste that comes from repeated mistakes. At the end of each task or activity, take some time to document what worked, what didn’t work and how to do it better. And don’t just go for the quick fix. Uncover the root cause of a problem and correct it. It may be a gap in a process, inadequate controls that allow people to take shortcuts or the lack of an appropriate standard. The time you invest now could very well prevent far greater losses down the road.

Refocus negative energy

Don’t even think about not practicing the change yourself. If you can’t stick to it, don’t expect others to. If that is the case, you should find a new change initiative. In fact, the real challenge is finding the balance in changing work habits while delivering a measurable boost in performance.

Transforming a knowledge-hoarding organization into an agile, knowledge-sharing enterprise isn’t easy. But time is running out. As in jujitsu, by refocusing negative energy in the right direction, you can speed up the process. In this way, you will be better equipped to not only keep pace with, but also lead, the changes in your market.  

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