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Why is change so difficult to begin? And, in the instances where it does occur, why does it seem to either plod forward and/or stall? One explanation could be that people are creatures of habit—meditating on the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” “let’s stay with the tried and true” mantras, instead of venturing into new territory. Confirmation bias–or our tendency to believe facts that support previous notions (while discarding what’s novel, untested, or outside our comfort) zone is partly to blame.

Managers may also fail to see why change is necessary due to what’s known as self-serving bias—an attempt to preserve our self-esteem by assuming responsibility for things that go well and blaming externals for any negative outcomes (or ones we were not expecting).

Organizational development (OD) consultants behave as cultural sleuths. They look for the root of firm ills by contacting employees–upon whose doorstep supervisors may have laid the blame. But workers themselves may not be at fault; they may instead have been the recipients of managerial neglect/mismanagement and/or supervisory bullying. Upon hearing a consultant’s verdict leaders may mount a vigorous defense–behaving in a defensive, accusatory fashion when the goal is to fix a situation that harms the company and potentially derails profits.

  • Inertia exists because bosses are affirmed in just about everything they do—unless of course, they actively solicit negative or contrary feedback. Dean’s disease is how negative situations perpetuate and how supervisors become entrenched within their predictive routines. Unless there is proactivity and a plan disruption will occur only where there’s a countervailing force—like a change in leadership, an unfortunate leak to the media that creates a firestorm, or a lackluster performance that attracts the attention of stockholders. Hierarchical structures are conducive to homeostasis because a stringent chain of command enforces rigidity. When supervisors blame their employees for dysfunction it is a sure sign that something is amiss—with a top-down mindset creating an insular bubble that dismisses (out of hand) competing perspectives.

Tiered structures reinforce static thinking. In organizational pyramids a “blinders on” focus may prevent people from considering possibilities. Flexibility is a prerequisite for wide angle vision—where managers can see the rubrics cube of what could be, instead of the flat surface of “we’re not at fault.” Activities where they learn from their employees–like outdoor adventures or role play where they switch positions–can give them insight into what employees are thinking and the value of their experiences.

Unless employees are permitted to peer inside the wizard’s projector, little at work will change.

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All viewpoints expressed by Jackie Gilbert are her own, and not of her employer.

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