The "fight or flight" response is often used as a way to explain why change in a business context is so difficult. This suggests that as humans we perceive change as a threat and then have an almost automatic reaction to either defend the status quo or run.
Although I have studied psychology and appreciate the science behind this theory, I find it rather unhelpful in an organizational change context.
For several reasons:
#1 It is disempowering.
To put "change is difficult" down to our cognitive make up as a human is entirely disempowering. We can’t do anything about our genetic make up, so obviously change is always going to be difficult, right?
#2 It is used as an excuse.
If change is always going to be difficult, there is no point trying to find a better way to do it. So we keep doing it badly.
#3 It ignores all good change experiences.
There are many stories, particularly today as businesses start to embrace more innovative approaches, where small changes are made everyday that help make great progress quickly. This is change, and it is not painful, and it is not seen as a threat. Except perhaps by competitors.
But most importantly…
#4 Most people in organizations are all too aware of the need for change, well before their bosses make the decision to do something different. They want change. It’s the process they hate.
Too often change is announced, effectively dumping a specific and inevitably imperfect solution on people who we then expect to buy in. No wonder they feel threatened. Worse, when they try to raise any potential issues we label them "resistors".
This is what makes people hate change in their organization. It’s not the fact that change is happening — it is often seen as a good thing. It is the process we follow where decisions are made by small groups of people, based on poor information, with no opportunity to revisit what is happening or how, in a way that respects the contribution more people can make to find a better solution.
Most major scientific theories have been disproven over time. While I don’t expect this theory to be disproven any time soon, I am looking forward to it becoming irrelevant within the context of business change.
I am looking forward to proving that business change can be a positive experience by finding a better way to make it happen.