Immunity to change – challenging our deepest assumptions

I had the great opportunity to attend an “Immunity to Change” session lead by Dr Lisa Lahey, the associate director of Harvard’s change leadership group.

Her research looked at what holds us back from change and how to respond to what is effectively our own immunity to change. The approach is a radical one, looking at why people, despite their best intentions often can’t change.

The session was an important pre-cursor to some senior leadership work for a global cosmetics company we were about to embark on, and was an enlightening look at why, however much we say we want to change, we’re often stuck and unable to take the initiative.

Looking at how many of us approach our own attempt to change, it’s often a case of telling ourselves to “do more of the better behaviour” or “just do it” that’s used as a strategy. While this sometimes works you also often hear people describe frustration at themselves as to why they can’t get on with something, even when they want to.

This can lead to management and organisational frustrations too, particularly when individuals say they want to change, yet seem unable to do so.

It’s a matter of priorities

Lisa Lahey’s work shows us, through a structured approach, that there are often natural and competing priorities that prevent us from addressing our leadership goals and behaviour change.

A true in-depth understanding of these competing priorities illuminates why we are stuck and what is holding us back. The process involves looking at previously hidden assumptions and why they put the brakes on change.

Action learning is a great process for unearthing these unconscious or unexamined assumptions, illuminating what, though hidden, are higher priority drivers, and helping us to understand the whys and wherefores of failure to change.

For example, many of us might say we want to achieve something significant, yet deep down, we are actually afraid of that outcome. It could be achieving success on a project that, though on paper sounds like the perfect outcome, might in reality expose us to more challenges, or result in us being asked to manage more people – a prospect that in itself is quite scary, so we hold back.

The Immunity to Change Programme

With a programme for over 30 members of a leadership team, we are running 5 action learning sets for a 9 month period starting with two face to face sets and following up with virtual action learning sets.

As always, the sets will start by establishing an environment of trust in which the participants will then feel at ease discussing their approach to change. Through open questioning, we’ll dig deeper into their motivations for resisting change – motivations they may not at the outset be conscious of.

Only by understanding and challenging these deepest assumptions, will participants be able to truly appreciate and resolve the barriers that are holding them back.

The ultimate purpose of this programme is to enable individuals to develop, to capitalise on their talents and to contribute in a more significant way to overall organisational objectives. Action learning sets the scene and performs the reflective practice necessary for this deeper level of learning, searching and understanding to take place. We look forward to reporting the outcomes of this programme once it is complete.

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