Resisting Change

Dave Cheong, who is writing again after taking break when his  child was born, wrote a wonderful article entitled Embrace Change, Your Life Depends on It. Wow.

There are very few people who naturally adapt to and embrace change. It is in our very nature to resist and fight. To keep the status quo. Change is scary. For those of us who like stability, all changes, even good changes, can be incredibly frightening. I fight this fear every day.

My own organization and I have been in a constant state of change since 2003. Acquisition by a local university. Changes in job expectations and duties. Change of Director. Death of Founder. Layoffs. Planned move to campus. More Layoffs. Search for a new Dean to oversee us all. I think it is fair to say that even those of us who are driving some of these changes feel a bit overwhelmed by the chaos of this process. Thus, Dave’s article was incredibly timely. He introduced me to the Satir Change Model (link to an article by Steven M. Smith describing the model that is outstanding).


I found this specific image of the model (also Copyright by Steven M Smith) here.

My own organization is muddled in resistance and chaos (also known as the pit of despair). There are many transforming ideas, but they have yet to take hold to to be integrated. I strongly support all of the changes that have been happening as I can see how they will lead to the new status quo, which will be better, but it is hard to keep that in mind when one struggles with the chaos.

Let me end with a quote from Dave:

To change your life for the better, you have to introduce a Foreign Element, trigger or change agent. Shake things up. Do things differently. Adopt an improved mindset. Be a different person.

Your life depends on it.

8 comments on “Resisting Change
  1. Steve Smith says:

    Hi Cathy,
    After 4 years of “constant change,” perhaps chaos is the status quo.
    Would that idea, if it fits, be a foreign element?
    Best wishes for a successful transformation,

  2. HDReader says:

    Wow. Really eye opening stuff. Thanks for sharing it. After looking at this, it’s clear to me that when it comes to work, I am most happy in the process of change and least happy in the late status quo. The steps in the process are so very true.

  3. Cathy says:

    Hi Steve and HDReader,
    Thank you both for the comments.
    Steve, I’ve been pondering this since I saw your comment and I think for me it depends on the source of the chaos and change. I think that chaos or constant change could become the status quo in some organizations. In so many places it’s almost necessary to adapt constantly or become obsolete. I think the reception to the changes or chaos will depend on how much input that people had in the process. Did the change come from the outside or the inside? In my own organization people act the most hostile and resistant when they perceive that the changes are sprung on them unexpectedly.
    And of course there are always people like HDReader who view organizational changes as exciting opportunities. It’s a frame of mind I’ve been pursuing myself. Thank you for having such a great article on the Satir Change model for me to find.

  4. Steve Smith says:

    Cathy, An organization is a group of people who share a mission. If their market is constantly changing, then their choice to constantly adapt is highly functional behavior.
    Their status quo is adaptation rather than chaos though. Their transforming idea may be, “We can thrive by adapting.” They do many change cycles and experience short periods of chaos, which is something they expect and embrace.
    An adapting organization isn’t thrown by an unexpected change because they expect unexpected change.
    A status quo of adaptation is much different than a status of chaos. Do you see how they might be different?
    Best wishes,

  5. Cathy says:

    I love your word precision. Yes exactly. I wish I could have said it as well. Thank you.
    I think in my own experience, it’s the “choice” piece of the equation that makes the difference for the individuals involved. To me, it’s the difference between being in a small boat tossed on a stormy sea vs. being in that same small boat on the same stormy sea with a paddle, and a view of a shore on the horizon.

  6. Steve Smith says:

    Cathy, I like your simile. I’ve been bounced around by storms at sea. I felt tiny but yet with enough power to negotiate the storm.
    Navigation of organizational storms (change) happens at three levels — the individual, the team, and the organization. Successful navigation requires change at all three levels.
    Successful navigation (change planning) requires knowing your location and destination.
    Let me speculate about the nature of your organization’s location: Four years ago, the people whose opinion counted the most concluded the organization’s expenses were out of step with its revenue. To regain financial balance leadership trimmed expenses; for instance, by making layoffs, by being acquired, and by moving the campus. I speculate your organization remains mired in a similar location. So the operative foreign element was and is, “We must regain our financial balance.”
    That’s pure speculation on my part based on archetypes of foreign elements. How does my speculation differ from your reality? What was/is the foreign element?

  7. Cathy says:

    The timing is a bit off on the order of things but your speculation is far too close for comfort.
    In a nutshell, we almost closed a few years ago. The team was completely fragmented by this. I was a stereotypic scientific researcher and these organizational events completely blindsided me. So, I went to Business School to learn what signs I’d missed & to see how successful organizations work.
    About 2 years after the acquisition I was appointed as the acting director. I was often asked why I’d want to helm the “Titanic.” But I could see a path to get at least a few life rafts to shore. Unfortunately, not everyone. There are however a number of “transforming ideas” that can be implemented once we get there that I hope will make things more sustainable for the future.
    Of course moving us to campus (us getting to shore) is a “foreign element” to some of those who are already there. It all cycles.
    I’m watching your training schedule but if you do anything in the Denver area, I hope you will let me know. I am very much enjoying your website and articles.

  8. Steve Smith says:

    Cathy, I don’t have anything planned for Denver. But I will be training in Phoenix, November 4-5, at the Amplifying Your Effectiveness (AYE) Conference, It’s a terrific conference. As a founder and host of the conference, I admit I am biased. But I believe you would enjoy it and find it a valuable experience.
    I’m laughing about “…ask why I want to helm the Titanic.” I empathize with the desire to bring a few life boats safely to shore. I see your quest as a noble undertaking.
    Effective leaders fuel organizational change by setting a direction for individuals and teams (groups of individuals) to independently power the organization’s propellor. In my experience, a direction defined by financial information works for people at the top of the organization but flops for people in the middle or bottom of the organization.
    The tops like thinking in financial terms. The middles and bottoms don’t.
    Let me throw a wild idea out for your consideration — focus the top, middles, and bottoms on increasing the number of people who apply for admission to your school.
    It’s a direction that each person can work independently to power the organization in an effective direction. I stress independently because some teams, for varied reasons, will choose to not choose and thus do nothing. But the action of an individual’s team doesn’t stop the individual from contributing.
    An organization power is its people. I believe in helping them see what is desired and letting them work independently to help drive the organization. That’s what organisms do. Why should organizations think they are any different?