Politics and Conflicting Interests Preventing Change

When teams do not make needed adjustments, your organization is stuck, blocked from optimizing productivity or accessing its full potential.

Mark, the Director of HR and Operations for a large transportation company, couldn’t believe he drove two hours to attend the strategic change meeting. It seemed like a total waste of time. When the strategic consulting company came in, at first they promised their recommendations, if adopted by the leadership team, would open the doors to the growth the company was hoping for. He intuitively knew this would be a tall order because of the politics in the business.

“Some of our leaders say they fully understand what needs to be done and express the desire to apply the recommendations, but their actions don’t seem to be aligned with their statements. I believe their intentions are genuine, but they just don’t fully understand what the change requires. Other executives will tell you they are fine with moving forward and then do everything to sabotage progress. Some keep arguing, bringing up every claim possible for why the recommendations won’t work, while others will bluntly disagree and walk out of meetings.”

The organization had a very strong union and, over the years, leaders had invested most of their time in covering their interests, which meant long tedious discussions or, in other words, a waste of time.

Mark’s organization was given recommendations for a transformation that would streamline efforts. As a result, this recommended solution was supposed to create greater productivity and profits for the organization. Unfortunately, the politics and conflicting interests of different teams got in the way, but resistance was covered by a variety of different behaviors. On the surface, everyone agreed that, ideally, the offered solutions would lead to the organizational goals. But agreeing didn’t mean cooperating. Needless to say, without the cooperation of the leaders in the room the recommendations were not executed.

In an effort to create cooperation around the recommendations of the strategic experts, the leadership team invested in conflict resolution skill-building workshops, and in strategic efforts to unite the team around one vision. The organization’s leaders came out of these efforts just as they went in. Leaders were invested in keeping their department unchanged, but resistance was not exposed and was not successfully managed. They didn’t really want to invest in cooperating with a solution that would burden their department, even if the improvement to the organization as a whole was dependent on it, and until that resistance was removed, no progress could be made.

In our experience, taking into account the fact that people do not want to change, and integrating changing them into the solution are imperative components for the success of any change process. This case is an extreme, of course, but it shows what we often run into: a team that knows exactly which needs are required and what the goals are, but who are unwilling to make the needed changes in order to adjust. Having a system that can overcome these latent and most difficult resistances relied on supplementing the team with certain strategies that first allowed team members to change.

Integrating the considerations needed in order to overcome resistance into the solution made it possible for Mark’s leadership team to move forward. “The results, and especially moving past resistance so elegantly and easily, were incredible. If it wasn’t for overcoming resistance and internal politics in this way, the change initiative would have failed just like it did in the past. That wasn’t the case here. It is truly remarkable…once people have the ability to get what they want effectively, they stop investing in dysfunctional habits. It makes everything seem so easy, except it is one of the most difficult things to do.” (Director of HR and operations, transportation industry)

There is a new way to change people who don’t want to change; a new way to overcome resistance that goes far beyond communication and transparency. Getting people to develop the needed foundation to work together with excellence and reach the team’s full potential has proved to consistently meet needed outcomes where very few successes have been had in the past.

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