Barriers to Change

Barriers to Change: Fatalism

How much change can one person make in a huge organization? Enough to make a difference.

Fatalism is an entirely reasonable response to any change initiative: one person can’t make a huge difference in a large organization, so it should come as no surprise when an individual ignores or is indifferent to change.

If you don’t believe change is possible—that you have little control over things—then you can’t be blamed when nothing changes.

This attitude might be frustrating for a leader, but it’s important to remember that leaders generally have more autonomy than individual contributors. Change is something that they decide to do, rather than something that is done to them. Fatalism, on the other hand, is a type of protective mechanism: if you don’t believe change is possible—that you have little control over things—then you can’t be blamed when nothing changes.

On top of that, humans tend to have a negativity bias: we’re more likely to believe that failure is inevitable and success is a fluke, which can create a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Organizational Change

NOBL has helped world-famous organizations change collective behavior and business outcomes. Reach out to see how we might be able to help your organization.

Here’s how you can get people to overcome fatalism: 

  • Prime people for success. It turns out that eliminating the negativity bias can be as simple as sharing facts about the high probability of success. Point out examples of how the organization has successfully made change in the past, or even focus on how the individual has accomplished goals.
  • Focus on the zone of control. If individuals are focused on changing the entire organization at once, it’s no surprise they’d be daunted—even CEOs like Steve Jobs needed three years to turn Apple around. Instead, ask them to focus on making change where they do have influence. Can they try running a meeting differently? Is there a report that they think could be eliminated without any ill effects?
  • Try. Get out of hypotheticals and “what ifs” and encourage them to actually try something, and then hold a retrospective. What worked? What’s different as a result?  
  • Create a community of change. Find other individuals who are also making change and create regular opportunities for them to meet and exchange ideas. This can create a feeling of support and camaraderie —people can actually swap best practices and support each other when things are difficult—and remind them that they’re not the only ones trying to do things differently.  
Published August 11, 2023

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