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Interview with Business Leader - Rick Maurer - Author of “Beyond the Wall of Resistance”

Updated: Sep 27, 2021

Rick Maurer is a veteran Change Management expert, author and the creator of the famous “3 Levels of Resistance” change management model. In our Q&A session with Rick, he talks about how he got into change management and explores the pros and cons of applying his change management model.

Rick Maurer

Hello Rick, and thank you for participating in this Q&A session. Please give us a brief background of your career to date?

Rick: I started consulting in 1978. I focused on management development training and organizational development activities such as assessments, coaching, and team building.

Why did your choose Change Management as your area of expertise?

Rick: Sometime around 1990, a lot of my clients were talking a lot about the headaches that they were getting when they led change. They often used the phrase "resistance to change."

I did a literature review in the business press and found one verb appeared over and over when I searched on "resistance to change." That verb was “overcome”, as in, "We need to overcome resistance to change."

That seemed like the wrong approach. Trying to overcome (or overpower) resistance often just adds to the opposition. I started to study the notion of support and resistance to change pretty seriously and ended up creating my own model, that resulted in “Beyond the Wall of Resistance” (Bard Press 1996). That book changed my life. I know books are supposed to change other people's lives, but mine change big time.

My phone started to ring. People wanted to learn more about my ideas for working with resistance and support.

Within a year or two I abandoned virtually all of the other things I was doing, I started focusing almost entirely on making my approach as useful as possible.

Have you had any career influences, past or present, and how?

Rick: So many. I went to music school to learn how to teach music to young children. Although I never taught, I did learn how to break down complex things (like learning to play a clarinet) into manageable chunk and explain things in a language that made sense to those students. So it was extremely helpful.

In graduate school (George Washington University) I studied working with emotionally disturbed kids. The philosophy of that program was that many of these young people were not disturbed, it was the schools that were disturbed. I believed that then and I still believe seeing that play out in organizations.

What do you attribute your career success to as a change management innovator?

Rick: Two big reasons:

1. Beyond the Wall of Resistance was very popular. I had a lot of national and some international media coverage. My phone rang. Those people told others.

2. Good luck

What advice do you have for aspiring change management professionals?

Rick: Too often, change management approaches are detailed plans and miss the human element. Some popular plans give lip service to the human element, but fail to help leaders and consultants build strong support for big changes. There are notable exceptions and those who are people who have influenced and continue to influence me.

I would encourage them to look at the work of Peter Block, Marv Weisbord, Dick and Emily Axelrod, Robert (Jake) Jacobs, the late Kathie Dannemiller and the late Edwin Nevis. I studied at The Gestalt Institute of Cleveland and I am on faculty as well. Their thinking about the human part of change continues to have a huge impact on me. In fact, my first book on the subject would not exist if it hadn't been for the people who taught me.

Please give us an overview of your 3 Levels of resistance model and how organisations can apply this when implementing change?

Rick: I identified three levels of support and resistance to help myself and my clients understand what energy could support or get in the way when we try to plan and implement change. Focusing on the resistance side, they are:

Level 1 I don't get it.

Level 2 I don't like it.

Level 3 I don't like you.

But what we usually need is for people to get it (or understand what we are talking about), Like it (get excited, engaged, committed to the change), and at Level 3, have trust and confidence in the people leading the change.

I must know, and my clients must know, how the current levels of support or resistance are likely to impact a project. Without that bedrock information, any techniques they try or their consultants recommend are based on hope and not reality.

What are the pros and cons of this Change Management model?

Rick: My approach is not a comprehensive approach to change. Think of it like a good latte. When a skilled barista makes a latte, you can't tell where the espresso ends and the milk begins and vice versa. My approach is simply a way for people to make sure they are blending support into their existing plans at every step along the way. Too often, the human part of change is either ignored or consider an add-on when we've got time.

My idea about blending is that EVERY activity is an opportunity to enhance energy and forward momentum, even those mind-numbing weekly staff meetings have many untapped places where leaders could add some vitality.

The cons are that some leaders don't believe that support is all that important. If that's the case, trying to use my thinking even a little bit, will just add cynicism into the mix. I know this because I've been called in because "I'm the guy who wrote that book". Leaders kind of hope that just hearing from me will magically transform indifference and grumbling into interest and willingness to jump into the project. There is no magic in my models. I'm not a faith healer or snake oil salesman (I hope).

A big con is just talking about my approach with no intention of ever using it.

Please give us an overview of the value proposition offered by your company, Maurer & Associates?

Rick: If you believe that you and/or your organization need to do a better job of building and maintaining energy and strong forward momentum through the life of big changes, then we might be a good fit for each other.

What kind of changes does your company help organisations with? For instance, cultural changes, business model changes, changes to their organisation structure etc.

Rick: I am only focused on the human part of change, that is, are you getting the support you need or not? I have worked with clients on IT, Lean Six SIgma, merger integration, and many other assorted projects.

With the global pandemic hitting a lot of companies hard, some companies had to make significant changes to their business model to survive. Has there been an uptake in clients looking to implement changes due to the pandemic?

Rick: I haven't noticed this. Obviously many have tried to get real savvy on ways to work effectively in a virtual environment, but I haven't seen a lot of things we might consider big changes.

Has Maurer & Associates had to make any organisational changes due to the pandemic?

Rick: No. I am a one-person company. I used the time to work with clients more informally using Zoom and I've also written my second book “Seizing Moments of Possibility: Ways to Trigger Energy and Forward Momentum on Your Ideas and Plans.”

We have come to the end of the interview, and would like to thank you for participating in this Q&A session.

Rick: Thanks. I like the questions.

Rick Maurer


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