The fundamental barrier to bringing about change is that human beings, while having the greatest ability to adapt or change of any animal, have a tendency to resist change– particularly if the change has been imposed.
In the 1980s I attended one of those American pop psychology courses favoured at the time, the kind where the trainers, often in suits, would attempt to get the participants ‘clear’ about each individual being ‘responsible’ for their own lives. All very entertaining and some of it was good, even enlightening.
A word that was used a lot was ‘transformation’; it’s become very popular within organisational development and ‘business-change’ speak in recent years.
The facilitator of the ‘80s seminar taunted us participants with that word: she said, whilst holding up an apple, “If I were to transform this apple using the literal meaning of ‘transform’ I would be holding an orange”.
I remember feeling very bemused, as were the people around me. But the debate that followed shed light on how glibly we use words at times. To truly transform something, according to the dictionary, is to shift the very essence of what it is to something else.
Yet, when it comes down to making changes at your company, true transformation, however desirable, isn’t always possible – it’s too unrealistic. So, leaving transformation aside, what about mere change?
The fundamental barrier to bringing about change is that human beings, while having the greatest ability to adapt or change of any animal (given what we can eat and where we can live on the planet), have a tendency to resist change, particularly if it is change we did not choose or change that is imposed.
When it comes to bringing about real substantial change within organisations, there are two ‘truths’ that need to be acknowledged. Firstly, change can be uncomfortable, even disturbing.
Secondly, unless a critical mass of employees truly buy into the need for change there is a likelihood that resistance, from individuals or groups or even departments, will stop the change in its tracks.
Over the last 30 years, I have developed methodologies to help individuals and companies to accept change through creating a sense of mindful choice.
What is mindful choice?
Within every aspect of life, if I stop to think about it, I have an expectation: I expect the weather forecasted as opposed to the weather I’m experiencing or the relationship I dreamed of vs the relationship I am experiencing, or the way my job was meant to pan out vs the plans my director has to change it all.
Changing what I am getting in life to better fit in with my expectations is one option. But when that proves to be impossible the practice of mindfulness frees my mind to recognise other options in what might otherwise seem to be no-choice situation.
In part one of my book ‘Mindfulness and the Art of Change by Choice’, I explore the psychology of change, how to deal with the disturbance that change can produce and how to find choices that aren’t initially apparent.
In part two of the book, I explore the methodologies I have evolved over 30 years with the client companies I have helped grow. I reveal how to design and deliver change programmes that go deep and deliver true, measurable and sustained results.
One such case history covers the period when I was lead change consultant on the Viagra project for Pfizer Pharmaceutical, helping to bring that drug to market nine months ahead of schedule.
Another case history explains how the change project I delivered for Ella’s Kitchen, the organic baby and toddler food company, enabled their innovation and growth to run in parallel with such stability that the company could be successfully sold in 2013.
‘Change or die’ is a threatening phrase, although one that the part of me that is as resistant to change as anyone else can identify with. I prefer to make it my life’s quest, be it in my personal life or corporate life, to turn ‘change or die’ into ‘change by choice’. There is always a choice.
About the author
Philip Cox-Hynd is a strategic and cultural change management expert and co-founder of Harley Young, an implementational consultancy. He wrote the book Change by Choice: The Art of Managing Change.