#12 Immunity to Change with Lisa Lahey

Lisa Lahey

Lisa Lahey, faculty of Harvard Graduate School and associate director of Change Leadership Group at Harvard talks about her book Immunity to change.

What is Immunity to Change?

Immunity is when there’s a part of us that wants to move in one direction e.g. towards an important goal and at the exact same time there is a part of us that is unconsciously driven to actually accomplish a goal that is in tension with the very important goal we want to accomplish.

If you don’t see your IMMUNITY you will continue to be stuck.

So what you have is a version of a foot on the gas pedal and a foot on the brake at the exact same time. Lots of energy going on in that system. Basically maintaining the status quo. That’s an immunity to change.

The good news is Immunities can be overcome.

Example: A person who wants to delegate better will have one foot on the gas and at the exact same time the person may have a commitment to, for example, not losing status or no longer being the “go to” person or not being the person to accomplish the goal. So it’s a perfect example of somebody who wants to definitely make headway by being a better delegator and at the exact same time not wanting to give up the self protection mechanisms that basically allows the person to feel good in their work setting.

How do teams develop immunity to change?

Teams have immunity just like individuals. You can have a highly motivated team wanting to shift how they are acting and despite their best intension it’s basically not shifting in any consistent and reliable way.

Example: One of the most common ones that teams face is to be able to be more collaborative and the energy on the brake is the team wanting to preserve all the goodies that come from operating in silos. On one hand, it’s the organisation’s best interest if the team can collaborate more and on the other hand, people are protecting what they already have, i.e. the goodies that come from them getting a high profile from their individual performances.

So those are in tension with each other and if people don’t see what’s going on, they will continue to put a lot of energy into trying to make the changes with technical adaptations that won’t really be able to stick.

The change we’re asking one another to make is actually not so straightforward. Will power and motivation are not enough.

The biggest lesson to me in all of the work that I’ve done over these years, is people often underestimate how much energy is unconsciously put into keeping things at status quo. Change is actually very challenging, especially when it involves losses of some sort, losses of the ways we’d like to see ourselves in our work setting.

Making an Immunity map of your team is important for teams to discover their immunity and bring them out in the open and discuss the un-discussable so they can see there is a way to move forward.

What happens when teams are challenged to change AND they don’t see there is an underlying IMMUNITY?

We get into very difficult self talk with ourselves like,

  • Oh, I’m a loser. I can’t do this.
  • We make attributions about others like – We can’t really count on them OR They didn’t mean it when they said they were going to do X….

Harsh judgements come from our misunderstanding about the dynamics of change. Change takes time because we’re disassembling the ways we protect ourselves. That’s a really hard thing to do. So that’s why they are so precious to us and, and we need to take care.

What challenges do organizations face when they are going through transformations?

Change has many different dimensions to it and all too often we tend to go to the easiest solution set. i.e. we move to technical solutions. While the technical dimension is very important, an adaptive timeline (look at Podcast on Adaptive Processes), is needed for people to discover their immunities, and make the mindset shift.

You can have a 3hr workshop on how to delegate and if teams don’t have an adaptive timeline to look at how people are afraid of losing their credibility if they delegate, organisations will end up spending a lot of energy on the brake.

I think one of the biggest errors that organisations make is just not making enough room for genuinely the human dimension of loss that is involved in change work.

What kind of room is required for organizations to pay more attention to the human dimension?

  • One change is for people to literally have more TIME
  • Pay more attention to the ADAPTIVE DIMENSION
  • Expand opportunities to do that inner work in real time on a ONGOING basis

How hard is it for people to share their development goals?

It can be hard for a manager, for example, to tell his team he’s working on being more transparent, and to share his belief that he’s going to damage relationships if he is honest. If we have a organization that has signed up for a strategy to be deliberately developmental then everyone is there to develop themselves and to keep developing others. Then every single person will know what others are working on.

PRACTICAL ADVICE: Leave time at the end of a meeting to do a different kind review.

  • How did this meeting go?
  • Did we accomplish what we set out to?
  • Where we did not accomplish it?
  • What contributed to that?
  • What was each one of our individual contributions to that?
Change is hard.The better we understand that it is hard for very good reasons and we understand those resons and we can embrase those reasons and really create conditions for people to take on that deeper level of change. We will all be feeling more alive ourselves and collectively and we are better able to deliver things we devote our lives to when we grow in these ways.

Deepa learnt about Immunity to Change with Lisa Lahey at Minds at Work in their fantastic 4 day program.

Lisa Lahey can be reached at: Minds at work

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