Why common management practices create resistance to change

Nov 18, 2016 • videoFeaturesManagementJan Van Veenmanagement

Service focussed consultant Jan Van Veen begins a new series focussing on the importance of managing momentum amongst service organisations...



Tip! For a free report detailing insights in how your organisation compares to others in managing momentum take part in Jan's survey - further information and links to participate are included at the end of this feature! 



The common predict-command-control type of management practices create resistance to change. Most new management and leadership techniques try to overcome this resistance.


Most companies struggle to adapt to new requirements and opportunities. They see:

  • Ongoing performance issues, without adequate and sustainable interventions
  • Failing execution of strategies and change programmes
  • Too little innovation beyond incremental improvements
  • No preparations for (potentially) disruptive change

They fall behind their competition and risk dropping out as we have seen with Tandem, Wang, Nokia, Motorola, Kodak, Polaroid and many others.

The main reason is that these organisations do not adequately adapt to new requirements and opportunities. At the same time, companies which do manage to adapt continuously thrive from the changes and will be the winners of the next decade.

The problem

People by nature are quite strong in adapting and driving change, if there are good reasons to do so and not too many obstacles. That is why human kind is one of the most successful species on our planet, fostering rapid changes in our world.

However, the willingness and ability to drive change is quite easily blocked. Let’s have a look into a little psychology. Roughly we can distinguish three different parts of our brains:

  • The reptilian brain, which drives an automated survival mode when triggered by threat. The result is to fight or flight.
  • The limbic brain, which subconsciously adjusts behaviour based on experience, values and emotions.
  • The neocortex where we consciously think about many things, including problems, creative solutions, strategies and actions to take. We need this part of the brain to identify challenges and issues, find adequate and sustainable solutions, implement them even if the outcome is not sure yet and collaborate with others.

The issue is that the reptilian brain is twofold:

  • When triggered, it is extremely dominant and blocks the rest of the brain. In survival mode, there is no reasoning or creativity.
  • It is extremely easy to trigger the reptilian brain. Not only by life-threatening issues, but also by anticipating social or emotional discomfort. This is why our mothers taught us to count to ten and inhale before reacting in a way we might regret later.

Common management practices too often trigger the reptilian brain to become dominant. A few examples:

  • Performance management systems focus on forcing performance of people instead of on learning and developing (organisational) capabilities to perform:
    • Not meeting objectives is considered as a (personal) failure.
    • Peers and managers tend to react with disapproval after setbacks
    • There is no dialogue on how to achieve stretched targets
  • Many change initiatives emphasize problems and failures, rather than the great things we can achieve and feel proud about. Threat becomes dominant instead of the rewards of making changes.
  • Often, there is too much emphasis on the big gap, without a clear picture of the doable next steps to close the gap.
  • The lack of planned contingency and margin in plans to achieve stretched objectives can causing panic when setbacks occur.
  • Inconsistent decisions and messages, increasing uncertainty and unpredictability.

It is quite easy to recognize the reptilian brains at work. Typical signs are for example:

  • Externalising issues in performance or progress
  • Blaming others
  • Window dressing, lack of transparency of challenges and issues
  • Sceptism and negativism

Momentum for Sustainable Success – In brief

Wouldn’t it be great if we could simply prevent resistance against change? Everyone would be passionate and eager to jointly perform, to make things happen, to adapt to changing requirements and new opportunities, to learn and to develop. Continuous and timely adaptation and change would be part of our DNA. This is Momentum for Sustainable Success.

This is exactly what the successful organisations have in place. They apply new perspectives and practices which drive momentum to continuously adapt and drive change – that is to drive sustainable success. This momentum is their foundation for an adaptable, learning and growing organisation which has the capabilities to continuously perform, execute and prepare for future success.

Our ongoing research “Momentum for Sustainable Success” defines these perspectives and practices and provides practical tools which help organisations and leaders to build and maintain momentum.

Momentum Perspectives

Everyone in the organisation truly believes that:

  • People by nature will perform and drive change
  • Building capabilities to work smarter will drive performance
  • Future success is beyond current business as usual



These perspectives serve as guiding principles every day for all decisions, actions, attitudes and messages. Other articles elaborate on the different elements and provide examples.  Below, I describe these briefly:

Momentum Practices

Modern "sense & respond" type of management practices are applied at all levels and entities of the organisation. This includes:

  • Having a clear and compelling picture of the aspirations, the required changes needed and the steps to get there.
  • Having a continuous dialogue in which results and progress are reviewed and priorities, strategies and actions are adjusted.
  • Outside-In learning and preparing for the future, especially beyond business as usual.

Practical take-aways

Every business leader can start increasing momentum for sustainable success today.

  • Make sure you have a clear and shared vision of the future state which is compelling for all stakeholders.
  • Establish a practical road-map consisting of doable next-steps.
  • Change the dialogue and dynamics around targets and objectives. Move it from “monitoring and reviewing” to “strategizing and learning together”.

On top of this, I would recommend you to:

  • Assess the momentum in your organisation through our web-based survey. Until the end of 2016 this is free of charge, as the survey is also part of our research programme.
  • Check out upcoming articles, which will be elaborating on the Momentum-Framework and practical approaches and tools.



Our research: Momentum for Sustainable Success

Our research further defines a pragmatic and complete Momentum-Framework consisting of management practices, perspectives and practical tools. These will help you step increase and maintain momentum for sustainable success, strengthen your competitive position and leave others wondering how you did it.

You are invited to join by conducting a web-based survey. It takes approximately 15 minutes. Your input will remain confidential and will be reported in an aggregated form only.

In return you will receive in early 2017:

  • Insights in how other companies manage their momentum for sustainable success.
  • Insights in how your organisation compares to others in managing momentum.
  • Insights into the new Momentum Framework for sustainable success.

Please start the survey here.
Read about the research here.



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