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How can I resist thee?

Beyond the Wall of Resistance: Why 70% of all changes STILL fail ­ and what you can do about it (Revised Edition) by Rick Maurer Bard Press Austin Texas 2010.

Years ago my director at the time told me point blank that change was always good. What universe did he inhabit? From that point on I ceased to trust him altogether, an extreme but sadly justified decision. So when I read Rick Maurer’s Beyond the Wall of Resistance I was looking for vindication above all else. I found it in Chapter 5, “Ignore the Context at Your Peril.” Change can be difficult and resistance is definitely not always wrong.

However, change is also the only way most things get better. Frequently change is far from discretionary, indeed it is essential for survival. Furthermore, especially when it is an unforced option, change represents our best chance at extensive lasting positive improvement. For instance, consider Stephen Covey’s second quadrant in his time management matrix. Rick Maurer examines the three most important aspects of change goals, intentions and process. He offers an interesting array of ways to consider change, and in particular with resistance to change.

To begin with, change as a human phenomenon is a perceived process. We begin in the dark, then we see the challenge, get started, roll out our response and examine the results before moving on to the next change. At any point in the cycle we may have to struggle with resistance which may delay or derail our progress. However, unless that resistance leads to disturbing results or becomes entrenched, it should be accepted and sometimes embraced. Better results ensue when compromise begets innovation.

Resolved resistance fosters engagement and it is the failure to appreciate the potential power of engagement which is one of the four biggest mistakes leaders tend to make. The other three are: assuming understanding equals support and commitment, failing to appreciate the (negative) power of fear and failing to acknowledge how even a slight lack of trust and confidence in leaders can kill an otherwise fine idea. As the title asserts, although I don¹t recall seeing either a litmus test or statistical support for the number, perhaps as many as 70% of all change initiatives end in failure. Certainly, we all know of conspicuous change efforts that fall flat on their metaphorical faces.

At one point Rick describes the three critical things a leader or anyone else must invariably do if they want the changes they champion to succeed. For me, this straightforward listing constitutes the major insight of the book. For some reason, I had always thought any two out of the three should be sufficient. Now I believe I know better. In brief, you must convince your staff, customers or audience of the following: the soundness of your argument, a gut level acceptance of your proposed change and your own complete trustworthiness.

In the second two parts of the book Rick Maurer delves into the nitty-gritty of successful change. He shows us how to do change throughout the cycle and how to get back on track when we lose our way. He reviews tactics to raise our change management capacity. Another big insight: too much change directed activity is simply goal directed. A more subtle appreciation of change as process would remind us that resistance is absorbed and results are far better focused when intention not just a checklist of preconceived goals becomes our focus. In other words, when we learn we should also learn when to modify our direction, to allow our intentions to evolve.

In the interests of full disclosure I should say that I’ve attended a Rick Maurer workshop where I found him engaging in manner and clear in delivery. Before the event I asked his publisher to supply a review copy of Beyond the Wall of Resistance and Ray Bard graciously complied. Nevertheless, this subject is important to me as a life coach and strategic thinker and I would not give this or any other author on the topic a free ride. Speaking of other authors, let me end this review by commending this author for including discussions with such astute change authorities as Meg Wheatley, Peter Block and Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey. These inserts add depth of focus to the argument of the text. As Peter Block summarizes in his interview, “Resistance is simply a reluctance to choose.”

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