This article is written as a contribution to the #ChangeBlogChallenge (2019) on the topic of Change Resistance.
‘Change resistance’ – is a term that refers to a type of resistance. Usually interpreted as Resistance Of Change or Resistance To Change. It could also mean Resistance For Change. Ah, those tricky little prepositions!
Arab Spring, Occupy, #metoo are movements of resistance against the status quo, a desire for change to be made. People came together to revolt, rebel and revile some aspect of their collective experience and bring attention to inequity, injustice and oppression and prejudice.
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
Dr. Seuss, The Lorax
As a female, I’m very grateful for the resistance of women in the suffragette movement. Let’s take a moment to see the prevailing attitude they were resisting. Evidenced here in a poster from 1905 when NZ women (who got the vote in 1893) were attempting to get the right to be Members of Parliament.
We laugh at this now: How quaint were those words and constructs?! We have the benefit of hindsight and retrospection to interpret the actions, and reactions. And the class of people being resisted, i.e. privileged men – from the vantage point of 2019 – tend to take a more benevolent supportive view of this resistance.
Today is International Women’s Day. A global reminder of what has been changed and where yet more change is valued. Here are some inspiring examples of how resistance is showing up in everyday lives of some females. [I fully acknowledge that I have privileged a certain group of females – these were simply the examples I had to hand.]
I recently saw a post about Australian explorer Jade Hameister. (At 16 she is the youngest person to ever complete the polar hat-trick). The post stated she gave a TEDx Talk in Melbourne “in which she encouraged young women to embrace an adventurous mindset, and to resist societal pressures that discourage them from their ambitions.” The post went onto to say that “Male YouTube commenters took offense to her messages, and flooded the video page with the phrase, “Make me a sandwich” an internet meme that mocks women for having ambitions aside from making food for a man”. She responded by skiing back to the Pole and taking a photograph of herself with a sandwich on a plate. Good one!
Another young female who is resisting prevailing narratives is Greta Thunberg, with her call for action about climate change. “Adults keep saying, ‘We owe it to the young people to give them hope.’ But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” Watch or read her full speech here. She’s found her way to some very large public stages to make her resistance known, and is inspiring others to speak up.
Jacinda Arden, Prime Minister of New Zealand was actively using resistance in this British television interview last month. You see her resisting and rejecting the premise into which the interviewer was seeking to place her – resisting the desire to polarise her in negative and unhelpful ways. She stands out as having integrity and kindness in the world of politics.
And there’s the letter that’s been doing rounds on social media and resulted in television coverage: Olivia Bland, not a celebrity at the time, spoke up about her dehumanising experience in a job interview – deciding not to settle with accepting the treatment she got. She’s catalysed a conversation about appropriate behaviour and the power dynamics in recruitment activities.
It takes courage, fortitude and perseverance to stand up, speak out and be counted.
Significant leaps forward in our society have come from the seeds of resistance. A belief that something else is possible and that we don’t have to accept the current reality.
Two things to say about resistance:
• The definition and value of the act of resistance depends on who’s telling the story about the act of resistance.
• Resistance is a valid act of agency in situations of inequity, injustice, oppression, prejudice
Shifting the conversation to an organisational context …
• Is the organisational status quo, or organisational change, that is triggering resistance: inequitable, unjust, oppressive, prejudiced?
• Who is telling the stories of resistance; and with what intention?
I’m a card-carrying member of Team Human. And I have concerns about some of the changes that organisations want to implement; or fail to consider making. Often with explicit or implicit intentions of enabling capitalistic agendas, encouraging mindless consumerism; institutionalising privilege; maintaining a productive enculturated (i.e. programmed) workforce; and so on.
Are the ‘perceived’ acts of resistance, like the antibodies of an organisational organism responding to infection? Or cancer cells running amuck intent on destruction? As we know from medicine, some invading forces become catalysts for creating immunity and making us stronger.
Many smart people recently gathered at World Economic Forum in Davos, and messages about 4th Industrial Revolution surfaced along with the need for significant transformation. The last industrial revolution institutionalised work practices and mindsets that are argued today to be bad: Turning humans into parts of a factory model for productivity.
What if the transformation that is needed actually needs to come from worker resistance to the status quo? This is a different take on what OCM peeps normally think about resistance. If an organisation is a collective of people, then maybe the organisation decides to change, because the people in their acts of resistance of current work relations, make the determination for change to happen, and the nature of such change?
I’ve never seen myself as a socialist or a union person. However, I am concerned about the more insidious forms of organisation that have constrained the agency of smart creative caring human beings. Some of those forms come from a prevailing organisational social architecture of Family: Management are the parents, and while you live under their roof you’ll obey their rules. Even if management take a benevolent parental role, it’s still understood who’s the parent and who’s the child. Resistance-like behaviour in children gets many names like the terrible twos and rebellious teens. What is talking-back behaviour in children, can be understood as as-yet-unskilled-unchanneled-dissenting-discourse. We can learn to use forms and forums like debates to make dissenting views known and dealt with productively. That’s palatably acceptable, and potentially more constructive than rants or character assassinations.
If the social architecture of an organisation followed a form of community, then peer-to-peer relationships are more likely and more importantly, valued. When there is dissent amongst peers, it can take on a different quality and be handled in adult-like ways. I highly recommend this TED Talk by Julia Dhar, a young articulate female on How to disagree productively and find common ground.
Resistance in your organisation system may well signal the lack of ‘shared reality’. To get to this productively, is to find common ground and the things we can agree on. Don’t attempt to convince the Other on how you are right or different, first convince them how you are first similar, and go from there. This doesn’t need to become simply ‘accept the things I cannot change’ (from the Prayer of Serenity), it can also become ‘change the things I cannot accept’ – while having courage to change the things I can. And we might be able to change more than we think!
Dr Jen Frahm makes a great point in her article about Change Leadership not needing to attend to resistance – a very useful perspective for Resistance To Change. However for Resistance For Change, while signals may be weak or relatively invisible, these are ones for leaders to look for as they scan the environment and think about What next for the organisation.
These Change Leaders may have a blind spot for Resistance For Change signals in their own organisation. Lynda Gratton in an article about How Leaders Face the Future of Work says “Perhaps as a result of their own protection within the workplace, some leaders have failed to realize that the daily lives of those who work in their organizations will inevitably be transformed over the coming decades.”
It is often within the masses, a place of lower privilege, that conditions are fermenting to produce a brew of resistance.
Much of the Future of Work rhetoric comes from an organisational voice: Consultants and advisors advising leaders of organisation about top down organisational approaches to implement.
I see very few voices coming from individuals about the changes they want made against the status quo in organisational contexts – agency that could become grassroots movements or initiatives. Unfortunately I think the voices that do exist, are unheard and filtered out with unhelpful and invalid beliefs like ‘People don’t like change’. Try this one on for size: People don’t like change that is not meaningful to them. Resistance is a human agency that gets activated when people are not getting something that they care about or is important to them!
Grafton goes on to say: “The leader’s narrative should acknowledge that work is changing and offer a job-by-job analysis supporting the narrative that provides some idea of what this trajectory could look like. Employees can then engage their own sense of agency and motivation to think about how they can take action.”
It’s the last sentence that caught my eye.
Consider: Many of the mindsets that organisations want their people to have i.e. creative, innovative, adventurous, all have a kernel of resistance agency in them. You want those particular mindsets? Then you need to embrace the reality of the resistance factor within those.
The time is nigh for change in our personal and collective workscapes.
Will you use your voice and your actions to change the things you cannot accept?
Leaders – will you listen for and respond collaboratively to the actions your people are taking to signal the desire for change, or in fact, to catalyse change in small potentially impactful ways?
Helen Palmer is Founder and Principal Change Agent at Questo. Like Winnie the Pooh, she ‘sits and thinks’ … and imagines how people can make a better life for others and themselves. She likes to share those thoughts with the possibility that they inspire and initiate meaningful change.
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