Sources Of Resistance

There is a time to plan and a time to do. For shops that are contemplating the kind of fundamental process and procedural changes that touch on many employees’ jobs, this much is safe to say.

Columns From: 5/2/2004 Modern Machine Shop, ,

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Peter Zelinski

There is a time to plan and a time to do. For shops that are contemplating the kind of fundamental process and procedural changes that touch on many employees’ jobs, this much is safe to say. The planning must precede the doing, and when the time for further planning comes, those who are tasked with the planning should lift their heads from the doing so they can plan with a clear perspective.

These two steps, planning and doing, are the yin and yang of effective change. They also define the points where the organization making a change may encounter resistance from those who are involved.

The person who resists planning a change believes that there is something inevitable about the way the process works today. The standard procedures are the natural procedures, he thinks. Recurring inefficiencies are the facts of life, and the cost and duration of the process today are prices to be paid for doing the job. Instead of seeing promise in a proposed change, this person sees the unknown. He worries about the mess that will result when the tried and true is dismantled.

Part of what this person fears is the other form of resistance. The person who resists the doing instead of the planning is not the stubborn mule, but instead he is the mule who is too eager to kick down the barn. To this person, the unknown has more potential than the known can ever offer. He is always ready to tear into what exists for the chance to imagine something new (particularly if the consequences affecting him are small).

What this latter person fails to realize is that it’s not the envisioning and it’s not the dismantling that makes a new process real. The process doesn’t change because the vision has changed; it changes when the inertia has changed. And changing the inertia of something so big and heavy as the habits of a group of people requires nothing short of consistent attention over time. Anyone who is willing to help dream a new process into being but who is not willing to do the mundane work of debugging it, nurturing it and coaxing it along can doom any good idea to fail.

You may recognize either type of resistance in your own organization. You may even find it closer than that. I don’t work for a shop, but I do work for a publisher closely linked to manufacturing. We struggle with new ideas, new technology and changes in the market—changes that are comparable to what many manufacturers face. Like you, I am confronted by my own organization’s attempts to respond to what is changing. And from time to time, I see the tendency for both types of resistance in myself.

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