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Understanding Change – A 3-Part Blog Series

In the face of rapid technological advancements and shifting workforce demands, reskilling and upskilling our national workforce is imperative.

Part One: “The Future of Learning and the Need for Change

As we enter the Academic Year 2023-24, we recognize that as a society, we are six years away from AY 2030-31.  Experts anticipate the largest gap in our labor force in this country by the year 2030.

In this series, we’ll examine change as a process and what starts and stops that process.  Organizations including employers, educational providers, government agencies and donors are all grappling with making sense of where they are and where they need to be.

The Challenge of Change for Organizations and Different Stakeholder Groups

In this first blog, we’ll discuss human resistance to change.  People resist change. Resistance is natural. It’s not good or bad, just a normal part of how things work. Resistance is evident in everyday actions, like being late or not following instructions.

Resistance is not a fixed thing, but something that is created through conversations that persist over time.  But how much is real resistance and how much is a lack of clarity on the change process?  People interpret each other’s actions as resistance because they have different ways of understanding things. The people overseeing an initiative sees something very different than the people who carry out the process that supports the initiative.

Addressing Resistance and Change through Design Processes

WebStudy Foundation partners with groups of organizations to reshaping a better future for learning and earning using collective intelligence.  A future to be defined by labor market data and multistakeholder input, region by region.  It starts with aligning shared goals. A virtual convening is led by a non-biased facilitator who partners with regions wherever they might be in the change process across employers and educational providers. A design process is jointly developed to address the role of conversations, interpretations, and relationships in the construction of and the resolution of resistance and change within organizational contexts.

Understanding Resistance from Different Perspectives

An expert facilitator looks at resistance from three angles: like a machine, like a social event, and like a conversation.

Like a machine, resistance is something that happens in the space between the person suggesting the change and the person who needs to accept it. Resistance is natural and happens every day. Just like a car needs to push against the road to move, people in an organization show resistance in their daily actions, like being late for meetings or not following instructions. These actions slow things down, but they’re a normal part of how organizations work. 

Like at a social event, dealing with objections and negative behaviors may be socially awkward.  Instead of seeing resistance as a personal problem located in individuals or groups, facilitators see it as a result of interactions. Inactive and misdirected resistance are everyday forms of resistance that happen because people are used to doing things a certain way. Oppositional resistance is something different and exceptional.

Like a conversation, when people talk, they create relationships and make things happen. In organizations, conversations play a big role in how things get done and how changes happen.  Different people speak different languages and have different ways of understanding things. This means that communication can be challenging, and people may interpret things differently.

In virtual collaborative convenings, the facilitator, theme team and participants all play a role in resistance. Well-meaning facilitators may inadvertently contribute to resistance through their actions, such as breaking agreements on an agenda or unconsciously misrepresenting the details in information presented.

Web-based virtual convenings mitigate this by capturing the information exactly as it was stated.  Using digital tools speeds up the process, permitting a greater number of iterative cycles of engagement, interaction and feedback across all parties. Resistance can be resolved in a network of conversations.

The facilitator understands why people resist and they find ways to address everyone’s’ concerns.

Second Blog PREVIEW: Recognizing the Existence of Background Conversations

Look for our second blog in the series, “Recognizing the Existence of Background Conversations in Resistance” Changing the background conversation involves recognizing they exist and allowing a facilitated process to bridge divergent points of view.  Organizations and groups of organizations cannot step over a key process step – to achieve collective buy-in.  Successful systemic change requires this process step. 


References include:

Ford, J. (1999a). Organizational change as shifting conversations. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 12: 480-500

Ford, J. D. (1999b). Conversations and the epidemiology of change. Research in Organizational Change and Development Vol. 12. W. W. Pasmore, R. Greenwich, CT., JAI Press: 480-500.

Ford, J., & Ford, L. (1995). The role of conversations in producing intentional change in organizations. Academy of Management Review, 20: 541-570.

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