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Strategies for Change

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There frequently also is an assumption that collaboration and openness rather than competition and closedness are preferred ways to behavior. In keeping with the founding values of this approach (articulated by Kurt Lewin) consensus is sought over majority rule or authoritative decree. Those who must carry out the charge need to own it as their solution to their concerns. Trust between the persons attempting change and the people to be changed is deemed crucial to genuine change.  In all these assumptions, you can see the influence of humanistic psychology. Essentially, applied behavioral science takes a clinical model and applies it to groups and organizations.

This strategy for change has been far more controversial in many organizations over the past four decades than R&D or Social Interaction, if for no other reason than that it probes sources of resistance we prefer to leave buried. Also, because it focuses at least part of its attention on our emotional needs, it conflicts with the assumption of “cognitive rationality” that Parsons and Platt claim is so prevalent in many contemporary societies. We would like to think we are “above all that.” Even if we are rather irrational at times, we dare not admit it. Do bankers admit they sometimes lose things? Are banks not only too big to fail but also too important to appear irrational? There is little space for the recognition of irrationality in a world that is not flat and information-based (Friedman’s proposal) but curved and dangerous—as David Smick counter-proposes. Still, applied behavioral science has been with us for over a half century. If Parsons is right, we will not get very far toward effective strategies for change unless we face the human barriers to change which human problem-solving interventions confront.

THE POLITICAL APPROACH

If we follow the Rational model, the route to change is to build and argue an impressive case. The Social strategy takes that case, puts it on terms attractive to its audience, personally introduces it to Innovators and Opinion Leaders, then communicates through them to their various reference groups. The Human Problem-Solving path releases the resistance to change within us and makes change our solution to our concerns. All well and good. There is much to learn from the experts in these three general schools of thought. But what if Laggards block the road, blind to our eloquent presentations and determined to let no “touchy-feely” intervention get into their locked closet of fears, prejudices and selfish desires? Not a few upper level managers, corporate executives and blue ribbon task forces have been characterized as such obstructionists by those who want to turn their heads in a new direction.

The most common answer is political power. Build coalitions among influential persons and groups, then seek an authoritative decision which requires others to comply with the new idea, employ the new behavior, use the innovative product. Here is the way political processes usually work. First, some range of gnawing concerns, some “wants,” arise. Things are not as they should be for some persons in a community or with influence over it. Unless these various wants are felt strongly by influential people, and the people who hold them bring together various subgroups, no change is likely. People are usually upset about something or other but not sufficiently so to press authorities into a decision. But if the gap, if the discontent, is great enough a “demand” may well be in the offing. Then, if those concerned feel they can make authorities take notice and have confidence that a more desirable state of affairs is possible, they take action.

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