Change Whisperer – Gail Severini, Symphini Change Management Inc.


Resistance: “it is easier to ‘change’ someone else than to change ourselves”

In Change Management Communities of Practice, project professionals often discuss what to do about resistance.  It often quickly comes down to how to re-direct, re-assign or even fire the “blocker”.

Why it is so much “easier” to get rid of someone else (a “blocker”) than to consider changing ourselves … ? It might be a stretch to learn to take on a difficult conversation with a resistor but that effort has significantly higher ROI potential than any of the other options. 

Do Leaders have to change?

I propose that sometimes the greatest value we can create with organizations is the most difficult – that when we contract for change management work we all should preface the engagement with conversations with the Sponsor around:

  • “Are you open to the possibility that this work will benefit from (even require) you yourself, and your peers, changing?”
  • “Are you prepared to negotiate together for compromises that serve the organization?”
  • “Are you all open to investing in short but direct and often difficult conversations with your teams to secure their authentic and deep commitment to the organizational objective, prior to considering alternatives?” 

This is not a conversation to be blundered into – rather it requires mutual trust and respect.

If you are a leader, do you allow your senior Change Management practitioner to have these conversations with you? Do you humour them or deeply reflect on them – will you go first into change? You drive the DNA of the organization – your people will follow your lead.

Transformational change requires all of us to change even tho we might ALL resist it (consciously and subconsciously, immediately and periodically).  Navigating such conversations and such change is not for the new change manager, for the Project Manager, the bookish or the timid – it requires discretion, patience and judgement acquired over time. 

Often Senior Leadership and Program teams need as much support through the change as the change targets do – this should not be underestimated.   This is perhaps why many discussions in LinkedIn are coming around to questions like ‘what if the Blocker is a senior leader or sponsor?”.  

The difficult conversations Change Management Practitioners must lead, and face

And, while I am not naive to the realities of fiduciary responsibility, I struggle with the notion that people are dispensable.  While this is part of a much larger conversation, there is concurrently an implied responsibility for these true costs to be mitigated by the people managers at the source.  

There are processes and interventions, still cost effective even in turnaround or perhaps more so in turnarounds, that leaders can deploy – and I do believe it is the role of professional change management practitioners to inform, coach and support through these processes. 

The challenges WE, change management practitioners, often face are:

  • “Do we have the courage (and capabilities) to have these conversations with our ‘boss’?”
  • “Are we, as change practitioners, prepared to change the way WE operate (take personal risks) to ensure the success of our clients?”

How funny, droll really, that in considering resistance we (leaders and change practitioners) almost always excuse ourselves first.  We really should be wary that in pointing a finger three more fingers point back at ourselves.


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