Hi. My name is Daryl Conner and I’m a methodology bigot.
It takes a strong ego to be a successful change agent (it’s not a role for the timid), yet it is this very ego that can pull us over to the dark side of professional arrogance. What can temper our self-confidence enough so that we sustain the inner strength we need, but maintain mutual respect among the different approaches? In my experience, three things can help keep strong egos in alignment with, instead of against, each other.
For strapping egos to stay in check and truly relate to each other as representing different but equally viable methodologies, the parties involved must acknowledge that they can’t unilaterally provide all that’s needed.
This is the tough one. It’s one thing to agree that we are after the same kind of successful implementations and that it really matters whether or not some of the changes are realized. It’s a very different requirement, however, to have to recognize and openly declare that one’s chosen approach doesn’t have all the answers, and that only through genuine collective learning across frameworks will it be possible for practitioners to deliver on all their execution promises.
This is not a call to abandon our separate methodology preferences or proprietary brands. Synergy requires differences in perspectives or 1 + 1 > 2 can never materialize. Nor is this a plea for the elimination of healthy competitiveness among the various approaches. The distinction I want to draw here is between being competitive and being adversarial.
Spirited competitiveness fosters needed individual and collective learning. However, methodologies that are antagonistic toward one another (even if veiled as polite disregard) are ill-prepared for client challenges requiring more than one approach or more than a single practitioner’s experience can address.
I’m sure you know of examples where practitioners have transcended their competitiveness to create opportunities for mutual appreciation of their respective methodologies. (Please share any you think would be of interest to our readership.) I’ll offer up one—it’s a European collection of innovative individual change practitioners led by Holger Nauheimer (www.change-facilitation.com).
Inclusiveness and the honoring of multiple methodologies is at the heart of this change agent community. Holger and his partners have their own change practice with their own preferred methodology, yet he has created something called the Change Journey—a generic process that allows participants to utilize any set of concepts, tools, or techniques they find helpful. It doesn’t promote any single viewpoint; it supports all approaches to executing change (www.changejourney.org).
So, even though Holger and his firm use a proprietary set of frameworks themselves, they have also developed a methodology-agnostic mechanism that can be used as a learning tool for any practitioner’s chosen framework. I highly recommend you check out what they are doing. It’s a wonderful example of how we can both remain true to our biases and avoid the trap of becoming overly promotional or unnecessarily protective of our own approaches.
I’ll close out this series with a couple of questions for all of us:
How can we even entertain such questions if some part of us (even a small part) has fallen victim to the shadow side of our commitment to a preferred approach. The only way to manage the potential bigotry in all of us is to shed light on the dark region of our methodology loyalties (note how shadows disappear when exposed to light).
It is only human to have such latent tendencies. The inclinations themselves aren’t problematic. It’s through our denial that such affinities might exist in us that they are given the opportunity to manifest. Our task, our responsibility, is to face the methodology bigot in all of us, regardless of how prominent or concealed, and minimize its chance of becoming any more than a dormant demon we attend to on a regular basis.
Hi. My name is Daryl Conner and I’m a methodology bigot.
In this series, I’ve been trying to challenge all of us to search out any tendencies of the methodology bigot that we might harbor. We’d rather not admit it, but we probably all have some elements buried inside us. It is hard to be fully dedicated to an approach and avoid crossing the line into disregard, if not intolerance, of alternative perspectives.
No, you’re probably not a full-blown dogmatist as characterized by all the attributes I have described. Neither am I, but that’s not the point. The question for us is not, “Am I a methodology bigot?” The more poignant challenge is, “Is it possible that some of these tendencies might be lurking beneath the surface and inadvertently show up in how I relate to approaches other than my own?”
You’re probably safe in assuming that you’re not as atrocious as the sum total of all the negative characteristics I’ve described in this series, but that still leaves open the issue of how many, how often, and to what extent some of these difficult-to-admit inclinations are in play. If being a 100% bigot is both unlikely and too reprehensible to contemplate…is matching 80% of the profile within your tolerable range? No? Well, what about displaying only 50% of the characteristics? Is that acceptable? Still too high? How about 30%, or maybe 15% of the bigot’s narrow mindedness…would either of these ratios be respectable enough for you?
If you’re like most of us, you’ll say none of the bigot’s leanings are acceptable, and yet, if we don’t acknowledge that we have some of these impulses—at least at the unconscious level—we are more prone to fall prey to them. This is the shadow, or dark side, of being committed to a particular way of approaching change implementation. With the benefits of strong allegiances, there is the vulnerability of exclusionary thinking. It comes with the territory. Rather than deny that these biases exist, it’s best to accept that some of the tendencies are at least latent in all of us, and that continuing to surface them is the best course of action. Pretending that we could never be a host for such a foul temperament only increases our susceptibility to it.
The solution isn’t to abandon our well-deserved devotion to whatever approaches we have formed attachments to. The last thing we want to do is lose the differentiations the various methodologies offer. Alternative frames of reference about implementing change is the grist on which creativity depends.
Varying perspectives aren’t a problem unless they become a justification for discounting and disregarding each other’s views. This is when healthy differences cross the line and enter the prejudice-filled world of bigotry. The secret lies in cultivating different frames of reference that pay tribute to each other, not that hold each other in contempt.
What will foster our own development as practitioners, as well as advance our profession’s collective wisdom, is a virtuous balance—steadfast belief in and support of our respective preferred methodologies, while we honor and learn from other approaches. There is nothing inconsistent about being an aficionado of one approach while also being a student of several others.
There is no reason to withdraw any of our allegiances. We just need to ensure we remain not only open to but actively in pursuit of ways our separate strategies and tactics for implementation can inform and strengthen each other.
Next: Herding Strong Egos
Hi. My name is Daryl Conner and I’m a methodology bigot.
Many reading this series on the methodology bigot’s mindset may be appalled at the notion such thinking could survive in this age of enlightenment, much less within the civilized, savvy field of change management. Some may think that if this kind of partisan judgment does exist, it must be limited to a small minority. I’m not suggesting that methodology bigotry is universal among change practitioners, but it’s far more prevalent than is healthy for our individual development, or the general maturation of our field. In fact, this kind of prejudice has become pervasive precisely because, for the most part, practitioners are unaware it has taken up residence within themselves and within our ranks. And a problem unrecognized usually means a problem in unabated growth mode.
Methodology bigots don’t wake up in the morning and say to themselves, “It’s a good day for narrow, restrictive thinking.” I certainly never considered myself among those fitting the description. In fact, looking back at earlier times, I would not have reacted well to anyone even suggesting I was a methodology bigot. I might have characterized myself as confident in what my years of experience had taught me, but never arrogant. As far as approaches to change that differed from mine, I had no problem acknowledging that there were other sound methodologies. (However, I would have added that none were as solid as what I used.)
Oh, I might have owned up to being a bit more unwavering in my views than some practitioners, but I would have attributed that to having decades of experience in change work instead of years. (And I’m reminded that “cantankerous” is the word commonly applied to those of us with more grey hair than patience!) Even so, at some point, I realized that the enthusiasm I had for my own approach had crossed over into a subtle, but nonetheless pejorative, attitude toward approaches not consistent with mine.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s an unconscious impulse or an intentional, blatant disregard for other perspectives—the result of this kind of parochialism is always the same. Believing there is only one best way to execute change to the point that other approaches are relegated to the “inconsequential” file does a disservice to us, our craft, and our clients.
One can afford the luxury of self-righteousness if the implications for doing so are immaterial, but when people we serve and care about are affected by significant change, we must consign our egos to a status lower than our desire to serve, and bring our best game to the table. The best we can provide is unlikely to be reflected in a single, pedestrian view of how implementation should be orchestrated.
What’s the point here? There is too much at stake to assume any of us is free and clear of the repercussions I’ve been describing. The only safe way to proceed with the implications of methodology bigotry is to correct for it even if you don’t feel vulnerable to the problem (maybe, in particular if you don’t feel vulnerable to the problem).
Allow me to stop again and give a voice to the cynics who are saying to themselves, “All this is fine, Daryl, but even if I agree that there is more methodology bigotry in our professional community than I might have realized, I can’t relate to how this kind of narrow-mindedness applies to me. Maybe this is how some practitioners think of their approach compared to others but it certainly doesn’t represent me or anyone I know.”
My response: “I’m glad to hear that you haven’t fallen neatly into the methodology bigot profile, but I’ll offer a word of warning before you become too smug. Seldom do even the most provincial of practitioners operate this way completely or all the time.”
The question isn’t, “Do you or don’t you meet the criteria?” If you accept my premise that we probably all have some degree of predisposition for being overly confident and restrictive in our views toward our preferred methodologies, a more penetrating inquiry is, “What do you consider an acceptable amount of intolerance to be toward approaches other than your own?”
Most practitioners say that even a hint of methodology arrogance is unacceptable, yet there is ample evidence that exclusionary thinking is in abundant supply within the practitioner community. They are usually subtle about it and when they do express prejudices, most change agents don’t discount all other approaches all the time. Even so, this kind of discrimination can be at its most caustic and damaging when dispensed with a casualness that hides it. The bottom line is, most of us spend a lot more time talking to ourselves or to other change agents who think like we do than we do engaging in respectful discourse with practitioners who come at change implementation in ways different from ourselves.
Next: The Question Isn’t “If,” It’s “To What Degree?”
Hi. My name is Daryl Conner and I’m a methodology bigot.
The first step toward recovery for any of us who might have fallen into the “pit of arrogance” is to acknowledge the problem.
One of the reasons AA is so successful is that its members know first-hand the challenges of alcoholism. They also know all the ways people can kid themselves into thinking their problem is under control when it’s not. No one can be as supportive or as brutally honest with an alcoholic as another alcoholic can.
It is from this perspective that I am both empathetic and confrontive toward methodology bigots. I am one. (Yes, you read correctly. I used the present tense).
As with many deep-seated dysfunctions, healing from this destructive mindset is not a destination, it is a journey. Change methodology bigots don’t have a slight inclination toward one view—they insist that there is only one best and right way to deal with organizational transitions, and that, of course, is the method they adhere to. I spent many of my years as a professional change facilitator carrying this attitude (sometimes covertly, sometimes blatantly).
I began practicing our craft in the early 70s, when change management was just beginning to emerge as a formal designation. Much has unfolded in our field since then. In retrospect, it’s debatable whether there was ever a time methodology protectionism was justified. What is clear for me now, however, is that with the magnitude of change accelerating as dramatically as it has, holding exclusionary views about alternative approaches just doesn’t make sense. No single perspective can keep up with, much less adequately address, the advancing sophistication of the transformations our clients face.
I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling the need to promote an ecumenical rather than parochial way of thinking about change implementation. This series is meant to encourage all of us to move away from any separatist views we might have, and toward a wider, deeper acceptance and respect for the array of change execution approaches now available.
Oh, I can hear the naysayers: “Daryl, maybe you had a need to be more open to new ideas about change facilitation, but I’ve always been there and so have the colleagues I work with.” Well, I would have said the same thing at an earlier time. I never thought of myself as a methodology bigot, but I have come to realize that we all need to collaborate to a much greater degree if we are to deal with the accelerating change demands inundating the world. Maybe in the past this wasn’t the case, but by today’s standards, many of us are still far too insular and self-referencing.
The need for openness to new ideas is relative to the level of challenge being faced. Within the context of past change demands, a case can be made that none of us were methodology bigots. Today’s measure of disruption, however, calls for many more creative partnerships among the different approaches and far more sharing of lessons learned across what has been historically impenetrable boundaries. My hope is that we’ll all reconsider how receptive we are to what others are learning about facilitating change.
Easier Said Than Done
We can reshape tendencies, and even some habits, relatively quickly, but pigheadedness is a different animal. Because of the depth of the problem, circumscribed thinking doesn’t disappear simply because someone recognizes it for what it is. Nor does it evaporate as soon as one makes a decision to stop operating that way. Methodology bigotry is like one of those exotic parasites from some God-forsaken country…once you get it, it’s yours for life to either manage or not.
Deep prejudice of any nature, once embedded, is virtually impossible to eradicate. Awareness, insight, and commitment to a new course of action will certainly reduce, if not eliminate, many of the visible symptoms, but not necessarily the underlying problem.
It’s hard enough to form alternative frames of reference and priorities, along with their accompanying behaviors, but ingraining new mindsets requires years of repetition. Take it from a card-carrying recovering methodology bigot—the transition is not easy or fast. It is something you must always be vigilant about; it does not automatically go away with just an epiphany.
Next: Take Your Medicine Whether You Feel Sick or Not
As wonderful as this kind of dedication can be, there is a down side to being a true believer: The practitioner can become so adamant about the singular correctness of his or her approach that other methodologies are considered unworthy.