6 Layers of Resistance

Jason Furness, Manufacturship
Originally published in http://manufacturship.com/6-layers-part1/

The following is a synopsis of the “6 Layers of Resistance”,  based upon the work of Eli Goldratt who has now passed away. Eli was the founder of a group of work known as the “Theory of Constraints”. His best selling novel “The Goal” should be essential reading for anyone in business, not just manufacturing. I first read “The Goal” in 1991 when my first professional boss basically told me to forget most of what I learned at university about manufacturing and to just read “The Goal” and “The Machine That Changed The World”.

The technical aspects of change within an organization are often rather simple. The complicating factors and the drivers behind failures usually come back to the failure to adequately work with people to overcome in each of them the 6 layers of resistance. Whenever we are faced with a change every individual will work through these 6 layers, starting at Level 0 and (if the change is to be successful) moving up to Level 5. When people remain at an intermediate level this is when they resist the change that is being developed and cause the program or project to flounder.

6 Layers of Resistance

Change within an organization is difficult, time consuming, and often fails because there is a failure to work through the change process with the individuals involved in the change, and progress their personal thinking to evolve and improve the changes desired.

“If you want enemies, try to change something” – Woodrow Wilson


Layer 0 – Why Change?

It is very easy to get people into the lifeboats if they can see the ship is sinking. Somewhat harder is to get them to pay attention and practice the maneuverer when the weather is clear and the bar is open.

The most basic question anyone asks themselves and others when they are faced with the prospect of change is “Why Change?” Individuals will not involve themselves in moving away from their current situation unless there is a compelling reason to do so. These reasons will vary from person to person. One person may be sufficiently inspired or concerned so as to agree that there is a need for change whereas the person next to them can hear the same explanation but, due to their different experiences and motivational needs, arrive at an entirely different conclusion.

If a person does not see that there is a need to change, it is basically impossible and a waste of time to proceed any further down the path of introducing changes or discussing what those changes could be. Likewise with a group, there must be a minimum of a critical mass of opinion leaders who have come to the conclusion that a change away from the current situation is desirable. The conversation will need to continue until agreement is reached that there is a need to change. Thus Layer 0 has been passed through.

Layer 1 – Disagreeing on the Nature of the Problem

“When both logic and intuition agree, you are always right” – unknown

Agreement has been reached that the current situation cannot continue. The next stage of resistance to be faced is to gain a consensus and agreement on the nature of the problem that is causing the current situation to exist and remain. Most people will have experienced a variety of negative effects due to the current situation and have an equally diverse set of opinions as to the causes of the problems.

One organization I lead had definitely agreed that the situation had to change. The Sales organization saw the problem as being the Manufacturing group. The Manufacturing group saw the problem as being poor Sales forecasting and procurement policies. The Purchasing group was usually blamed by everyone. Engineering thought the problem was a lack of people to develop new models and the inability of Marketing to make a decision in a timely manner. This is just a snapshot of the generalized disagreement amongst the group. The skills required to perform an analysis of the situation with the group is a special skill. The outcome is the discovery of a root cause that produces the major symptoms that people are experiencing, or expose a conflict between well intentioned people who are forced to behave in such a way as to cause problems within the organization. Building this analysis with the group is the methodology to build buy-in and support to help people move through Layer 1.

Layer 2 – Disagreeing on the Nature of a Solution

It is more important to know where you are going than to get there quickly. Don’t mistake activity for achievement.

Just as there are many opinions as to the problem that is being experienced there are usually just as many opinions as to what should be done about it. If Layer 1 has been transited successfully, the range of opinions about the solution will have narrowed substantially. There will still be many characteristics of a good solution that different people desire.

The objective of this phase of the analysis is to improve the solution as it stands so that it increases the number of desirable features that will be delivered by its implementation. This builds buy-in for the solution amongst the people involved and affected.

Layer 3 – The Proposed Solution has Undesirable Side Effects

The chief cause of problems is solutions – Sevareid’s Law

Layer 3 is the domain of the cynic, the saboteur, the disillusioned, and the disenfranchised. By this stage you have agreed that change is necessary, you have agreed on the problem, and on a solution that will solve that problem. From the back of the room a voice is raised. The long serving and quiet icon of the department gains everyone’s attention. They have survived numerous administrations and change programs. Everyone turns to listen to them and they speak ‘That’s all very well, BUT…………………………” and out comes a side effect of your solution that is so damaging that it will kill the solution that has been developed and cuts down all of the great work that has been done so far.

But No! Layer 3 thrives on the input of the naysayer and the skeptic. We need their skepticism to save us from our enthusiasm. The surfacing of the negative side effects of our solution needs to be encouraged and supported, not suppressed. Suppression will split the group, and may well mean that valid concerns are not expressed and dealt with.

Our objective here is to have everyone express the things that can go wrong with the solution and then be actively involved in finding additional activities that can occur to eliminate the possible negative side effects.

By doing this we strengthen the solution and build continued buy-in by all the people involved. Examining these issues whilst it is all still theoretical is very powerful as it is easier to deal with problems when they are abstract rather than when you are under pressure halfway through an implementation. Layer 3 is passed through.

Layer 4 – There are Obstacles to Implementing the Proposed Solution

“Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off the goal.” – Hanna More

In Layer 4 we are now turning towards the implementation of the solution. We may all agree and support what needs to be done however there can be barriers from external sources or other areas that we perceive as preventing the implementation of our solution. Once again we want to encourage everyone in the group to raise any possible obstacle to implementation and for the group to design a solution to the obstacle. Our goal is to have the group so confident in the complete and detailed solution plan that they can’t wait to implement.

A group I worked with was prevented from implementing a solution because of the way their performance was measured. The performance measures that were in place forced them to do the exact opposite of what was agreed upon as the best solution for the business. This was raised as an obstacle and the performance measures (that were outside their control) were changed. Measurements that relate to some form of efficiency measurement are notorious for causing this sort of problem. Measurements were changed, buy-in was achieved, and the solution progressed.

Layer 5 – Unverbalised Fear

“It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare. It is because we do not dare they are difficult.” – Seneca

Layer 5 is a complex layer and not always encountered. Sometimes there remains a fear or concern that has not been verbalised. Reconnecting with the individual involved and stepping through the layers of resistance once more to surface where the unverbalised fear is lying and to help the person express it and then deal with that concern is necessary. Watch for someone saying ‘Yes’ but their body and behaviours say ‘No’.

True Buy-In

Ownership is the essential transition point for a solution to move from interesting to having complete buy-in by the individuals and groups involved. All throughout the analysis and discussion to explore and move through the layers of resistance we are progressively building buy-in and at some point the people move to owning the solution. Implementation becomes much easier and faster the greater the level of buy-in from the people affected.