Over the years I’ve partnered with many large organizations to create large-scale solutions that have the potential to affect everybody in the organization. When potential change is massive, there’s lots of resistance.The logical question is: if everyone wants the organization to succeed, why is there resistance to change that would benefit the organization?

Why there’s resistance to big scale change – it’s the hats

My friend Michael Doyle once explained it this way: There’s the LITTLE HAT and the BIG HAT (He actually drew me a picture to illustrate it.).

Some people are wearing their BIG HAT; they are focusing on the organization as a whole. Some people are wearing their LITTLE HAT; these people are focusing on a particular department or function within the organization.

Both perspectives are absolutely necessary in an organization. Both provide valuable insights into how the organization functions, including its untapped opportunities and its unacknowledged weak spots.

The four elements of the BIG HAT–LITTLE HAT PRIME

  1. It’s a RIGHT VS. RIGHT dilemma, as opposed to right vs. wrong.
  2. The implicit dichotomy of this PRIME can’t be eliminated, only managed.
  3. People need to be clear about which hat they’re wearing when they speak.
  4. It’s fair to advocate for yourLITTLE HAT, but not to the detriment of the organization as a whole.

This PRIME is one of the common dilemmas preventing true transformation across organizations.

The tension in the system

The fact that the LITTLE HAT and the BIG HAT are right creates tension in the system. The person in the LITTLE HAT thinks they’re right and should get their way; the person in the BIG HAT thinks the same way. There’s no clear winner – in fact, it’s an issue of RIGHT VS RIGHT.

Someone in a particular department may think, “I want to help the whole system.” They may also think, “I want to protect my department.” But what if, they think next, “what’s good for the whole system is bad for my department?” Whether that worry is founded or not, just the fact that it’s there is enough to cause tension.

As long as these needs and perspectives go unnamed, the tension will continue, and resources that could be better spent elsewhere will be eaten up.

Don’t force anyone to wear the BIG HAT – do this instead

If the tensions continue, and both sides are at a stalemate, it might be natural for to force a hat on someone for a moment so they see things from their point of view; however, we all need to be able to wear both hats.

We’ve had success in organizations when people actually name the hat they’re wearing as they’re voicing their opinion on an issue. By naming it, they become aware of the perspective they’re using, and they’re letting others know explicitly where they’re coming from.

The goal is to get the magic of “and.” When that’s not possible, the change effort that’s good for the whole rather than the part will win out.

Are you a BIG HAT or LITTLE HAT? Contact me on Twitter @ChrisMcGoff with your answer!

For more information, check out my book, The Primes: How Any Group Can Solve Any Problem.