Immunity to Change

Why is it so difficult to achieve change? You can get everyone aligned to achieving the goal and yet still deal with significant resistance. According to authors Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey the main reason is that most of us have a built in immunity to change.

“Doctors can tell heart patients that they will literally die if they do not change their ways, and still only about one in seven will be able to make the changes. These are not people who want to die. They want to live out their lives, fulfill their dreams, watch their grandchildren grow up—and, still, they cannot make the changes they need to in order to survive.”

Robert Kegan from “Immunity to Change”

Organisations don’t change – People do

Boaz & Fox (McKinsey, 2014) write about how organisations move quickly from setting performance objectives to establishing a program of change initiatives. These may be driving growth, productivity, changing a system or process. But these strategies are unlikely to survive if they do not address the mind-set and the capability of the leaders tasked with executing the plans.

Companies that only look outward when making organisational change make two mistakes. Firstly they fail to properly address the ‘adaptive work’ that leaders need to do in order to implement change. Secondly organisations focus only on developing new skills rather than building on competencies.

By understanding and linking personal drivers, individuals can improve themselves, increase their leadership capacity and have a lasting organisational impact. Erica Ariel Fox describes an ‘Inner Team’ of the big four personal drivers influencing you at different times.

Source: Erica Ariel Fox, Winning from Within: A Breakthrough Method for Leading, Living, and Lasting Change, New York, NY: Harper Business 2013

The Immunity Map

Kegan and Lahey created a tool called the Immunity Map in their book (Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization, 2009) to help leaders identify internal obstacles and determine how to approach them and bring about new results in the diagram below the immunity map has been populated as an example of how an executive’s subconscious competing environments prevent them from achieving full potential.

Source: Egon Zehnder

The immunity to change approach is unique in that it focuses on mindset transformation for enhanced professional performance, and helps individuals adapt to challenges, overcome blindspots, address competing commitments and remove limiting assumptions.

Organisation culture affects individual performance happiness and sense of purpose. But the individuals in the organisation have the power to collectively push an organisation to achieve new goals and higher achievement (Walsh, 2015).

What can be measured can be managed, but what if the leader does not know what needs to be measured? Or if that leader doesn’t even realise assumptions in their sub-conscience are potentially impeding success?

The capability to lead change

There are four key areas that contribute to a leaders’ ability to do the work

  1. Are they smart enough to manage the complexity of the judgments they will be asked to make? Can they get their head and arms around the work, or will it overwhelm them?
  2. Do they know enough for the role? Are the skills, knowledge, experience, and wisdom sufficient enough for the complexity of the role?
  3. Do they care enough about the work? Are they truly committed and without internal conflict about the nature of the requirements?
  4. Are they mature enough to manage the necessary relationships that they will need to do the work? Do they have the necessary interpersonal sensitivity and skills to do this?

Brittain writes that capability to lead change is deeply linked to how much you really care. “It is CRITICAL that all executives involved explore this complexity carefully, respectfully, and introspectively in order to implement whatever fundamental change or innovation the business decides it requires for future growth and success.” He goes on to state that executives need to split their consciousness into running the business and changing the business.

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”

Leo Tolstoy

If you go back to the Capability model, you can address this change work technically by ensuring that the individuals involved in managing the change are smart enough, know enough and are mature enough to do the work. These three can be assessed directly and objectively. This is technical work. But the model addresses if an individual can do it, not if they will do it. The connection to driving difficult change is tightly linked to how much and how deeply the leader cares.

Key Takeaways

  • Immunity to change is often in the sub-conscious so it can be hard to identify the blockers right away
  • Organisations don’t change – people do. So seek to understand how to get people to change and what blockers might causing that immunity to change
  • Making sustained change is very hard, driving successful change can be linked to how deeply the leader cares
Synopsis of articles

from Egon Zehnder
by Jens Riedel
Published 31 July 2015

from John Carroll University
Immunity to Change: An Exploration in Self-Awareness
by Scott J. Allen, Ph.D

from McKinsey & Company
Change Leader, Change Thyself
by Nate Boaz and Erica Ariel Fox
Published 1st March 2014

from Ivey Business Journal
The leadership immunity to making things happen
by Brian Brittain
Published August 2012

from Harvard Business Review
Making Business Personal
by Robert KeganLisa LaheyAndy Fleming and Matthew Miller

from Harvard Graduate School of Education
Be the Change
by Bari Walsh
Published 8th July 2015

Leave a Reply