Resistance to Change? The ABC Technique
by John Fisher, c2d
In all our roles we have to address change in its many forms. One of the biggest problems is that, usually, people just don’t want to change! For me what is fundamental, and sometimes missed, is that organisations don’t change people do! Therefore the key role we, as change agents or Business Psychologists, have to play in facilitating change is to identify why people resist change, what their drives and needs are and what we then need to do to help them come to terms with, and “buy into”, that change.
The key question most of us ask when faced with change is “what’s in it for me?”, or we say that “there was nothing wrong with the way things were so why should I change”?
So I want to share my favourite technique for facilitating the change conversation and uncovering blockers and resistance to change. This is a simple, but elegant, method, devised by Finn Tschudi, (1977) that provides a very useful framework for engaging with people and identifying why they won’t change or what may stop them from embracing change.
The ABC Model
The ABC model looks at the meaning applied by the individual to the change, the up and downside, its benefits and any implications thus allowing for a conversation and as the start for engaging them in the process. I’ve used this technique with both groups and individuals.
So to the technique itself; first you need to create two columns and at the top of each state the current and desired situations (A).
Then you brainstorm or list all the negative elements associated with the current situation in the first column and all the positive things you’ll get by moving to the new situation or behaviour in the second column (B).
Finally, and to my mind the most powerful part of the model, you identify all the things you’ll either be losing by moving and/or all the negative associations with the change in the second column. You then look at what, if any, positives do you get from the current situation, what are the good things about the here and now, what do you get from carrying on as normal, etc. and list these in the first column (C).
Once you have completed your lists you can then start to analyse the answers with your client. You are looking for potential blockers to change. You need to start exploring relative values and weightings of these blockers and decide how to overcome them.
If row C contains anything that is more important than row B the person will resist changing! This allows you to manage the change process and overcome the blockers.
In order to help bring the model to life and make sense of the technique, below is an example that a group of team leaders created as part of a Managing Change workshop I ran last year.
Here the company was faced with the choice of building a brand new plant to cope with projected extra work or remain in their current premises and “make do”. The workforce saw this proposal as managements’ way of closing them down and transferring the work elsewhere. Hence there was a groundswell of resistance to the move.
On reflecting on their ABC assessment, the team decided that the argument for change far outweighed the argument against and went on to champion the move.
Reference: Tschudi F. (1977), Loaded and Honest Questions, in Bannister D (ed), New Perspectives in Personal Construct Theory, Academic Press, London