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  • Immunity to change, a blog by Sally Howard

    • UK
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    • Pre-existing
    • Original author
    • No
    • Sally Howard, speaking about Kegan and Lahey's theory
    • 09/01/20
    • Everyone


    The New Year often encourages us to talk about change and to look ahead at what we want to achieve in the coming months as individuals, teams and organisations.

    In her latest blog, Sally Howard, topic leader for the hub, draws attention to the Immunity to change theory and outlines four key steps for realising our aspirations and making change happen.


    Over the Christmas period I caught up on ‘interesting emails’, the ones with content that needs you to put thinking time aside to inwardly digest rather than cramming it in between Christmas baking.

    One of these was from Mike the Mentor, one of the great people who trained me as a coach a good few years ago, asking a very simple question: How is it that, despite being committed to change, we so often fail to make the changes we are committed to? He offered a great answer, taken from from Kegan and Lahey's book, Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization.

    If you are just following a simple recipe there’s no need for this but if you are going to take advantage of new opportunities and deliver a bigger change then this is worth a look. Just as with New Year’s resolutions, we often look at the behaviour that we want to eliminate as bad. This book is all about growing into your aspirations, knowing what makes them possible and what is getting in the way.

    There is a four step process to understanding the space between the change to which you are committed and actually making it happen, then a journey of a few months to make that change either with your team, with a coach or in quiet contemplation.

    Step one

    Identify your improvement goal. The thing you are really motivated to change, the one that is worth getting out of bed for, that scores five out of five, and its simply no longer tolerable to leave things as they are. For example:

    I am absolutely committed to improve x in our system.

    Step two

    Take an honest look at the things that you are doing or not doing that work against that goal. The more concrete you can be the better. Be honest, you don’t have to share this with anyone. But, if you can, seek out people who you trust who can add things that they see you do or don't do that are getting in the way of this being delivered. These are your hidden competing commitments. For example:

    I don’t actively engage. When I engage I tell people what needs to happen OR I rush through what I have to say.

    Step three

    Well done. Now confront these. What are your fears behind them? Identify that loathsome feeling lurking in the background, what would be the biggest risk for me in this? For example:

    I worry that people won’t take me seriously.

    Step four

    Behind step three will be one or two big assumptions that you hold to be true. These need to be identified. For example:

     I assume that if I don’t get this right others will reject what I hold dear because they know more than me.

    These steps then become the route to changing your mindset that is working against your goal.

    Do take a look at Kegan’s TED Talk ‘An evening with Robert Kegan and Immunity to Change and take a moment to reflect on the space between you deciding to do something that’s important to you now, and actually doing it.

    You can also go to the Harvard website where you'll find a helpful immunity mapping tool to download.

    Please leave a comment below or message me through the hub @Sally Howard, I'm very happy to talk further about this approach.

    Sally Howard.jpg

    About the Author

    Sally has held national and local leadership roles within the NHS in a career spanning more than 30 years. A respected leader, passionate about improvement and inclusivity, she is trained in quality improvement methodologies and has spent the last 20 years in their practical application.

    She is also a practising coach because its rarely just about the ‘what’ you do, it’s also ‘the way that you do it’. She works with leaders of small and large teams as a thinking partner to help them be their ‘best selves’ at work: 

    • offering both challenge and support
    • encouraging curiosity and bravery
    • building confidence and resilience – few improvement journeys are plain sailing
    • and sharing a few improvement tools along the way.

    She has run collaborative improvement programmes nationally, worked with organisations facing significant challenge and over the last 2 years on the roll out of the Patient First Improvement System in Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust, melding it with work that had gone before, working intensively with wards and departments to build a culture of continuous improvement. 

    She has also worked as an Investigating Officer for the Office of the Health Service Commissioner and experienced the ‘great’ and the ‘not so great’ as a carer for her own family.

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