Why nothing changes when you sincerely want to change

Published June 5, 2022


The constant mystery of the life of organizations is how difficult it is for them to change. This is often not due to a lack of attempts. Rather, difficulties arise in the way they try to do so, concentrating their efforts in the wrong place, and especially ignoring the real cause of the blockage.

There is a paradox in the life of organizations. In a sense, they are constantly changing. Their life is a hurricane of initiatives, projects and plans. But this change often hides great difficulties in changing the background, ie business models in the face of failures in their environment. They seem to be a perfect illustration of the aphorism cheetah in Lampedusa, everything must change so that nothing changes. And yet I have never met an organization that would not want to change. They all want to innovate and transform. Moreover, they all have a plan for this with axes, pillars, goals, vision, mission, reason for existence and a full cachemono, PowerPoint, hairpins and related wallpaper. And still nothing changes. Why?

To understand this, let’s take the example of Richard, the manager of a large pharmaceutical company, whom I met during the seminar. In the blocking workshop I lead, I ask participants to identify an important goal for their business that they are trying to achieve. Richard’s goal is to make his team more involved. He believes that his employees are relatively passive. He regrets their lack of initiative, which negatively affects the results. ” Very good, I said. Now list all the things you do or don’t do that may explain your lack of participation. “.

The exercise is not obvious, but finally the element appears: ” I never ask their opinion when I need to make a decision. In fact, this seems to explain the problem well: knowing that Richard is not going to ask for their opinion, the staff is not trying to offer it. Knowing that his staff does not express their opinion, Richard believes it is justified not to demand it. Everyone is helplessly watching as productivity deteriorates without being able to change.

great faith

At this stage of the investigation, it would be a mistake to look for solutions – we are obsessed with finding solutions. We need to resist this and look at the fact that Richard does not ask the opinions of his staff, not how the reason problems as well symptom one another problem. In other words, you have to ask Why Richard does not ask their opinion. What I do. Here again, it takes some time to get an answer, but Richard, a little embarrassed, eventually puts it this way: I am afraid of undermining my authority if I ask the opinion of my employees. »« atI answer him it seems quite clear to me; and why do you think your authority will be undermined? “Well, I think the leader should have the answers, that’s his role. »

We are here. Richard has just identified his great faith, which is his mental model of what it means to be a leader. For him, a leader is one who has answers to difficult questions. At this stage, it is important to admit to him that this is not a stupid answer. It is a self-defense concept of leadership. On the other hand, Richard must recognize that this definition is not universal. Other leaders will have a different point of view. In fact, after a few minutes of discussion, he calls the name of another manager of his company, who never hesitates to force his team to work in difficult situations. From this, Richard can conclude that some leaders ask questions without challenging their leadership. Therefore, he can calmly consider his mental model of “a leader is one who has answers to difficult questions” and create a space, saying that in fact it is not necessarily true. From there, he can imagine inviting his team without fear of being questioned.

In this example, we see why finding a solution after identifying the root cause would be premature. If we stopped at the first stage, we would try to help Richard ask questions to his team, perhaps by conducting an active listening course or offering him coaching sessions. We would try to offer a solution technical while the problem is system. Forcing him to turn to his team would only increase his fear that his authority would be undermined. He would have played the game for a while, but no doubt, despite his sincere efforts, this fear would prevail, and his need for protection would prevail.

That’s why we’re talking aboutimmunity change. Because, in fact, without asking his team, Richard has created a system that works well for him, that protects him and, therefore, wants to perpetuate: of course, he is sorry for the lack of initiative, but his psychological security is preserved. . His system works at the local optimum: it maintains security but hinders innovation, which condemns it in the long run. A technical solution will not solve this security problem. Only questioning the source of the problem, Richard’s concept of leadership, can unlock the situation. Therefore, we must return to the mental model, that is, before Richard sees the world (here the world of leadership).

This approach works both at the individual and collective level. Kodak is investing billions of dollars in its digital transition, but its great belief is that it should remain number one in the photo market, whether film or digital. Therefore, the vast majority of investments continue to go to the film, which condemns the company.

Conflict of obligations

The difficulty of change is seldom based on a lack of will or unconsciousness. Everyone knows that you need to play sports to avoid heart problems. No one wants to die, but few actually do sports. This is not a problem of knowledge. The problem is that change calls into question what works well for us, this famous system, which, even if suboptimal, satisfies us in the short term. So the problem stems from a conflict of commitment: an explicit commitment to change (I want my team to be more involved) and another, usually implicit, commitment to protection (I want to maintain my credibility). Both commitments are sincere, and conflict arises from fear, which creates a need for protection. It is this fear that we must work on, and it is based on our mental models.

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