With the announcement of the president's gun control plan, and the seemingly requisite public relations positioning of children at his side, we are witnessing the culmination of what I call a "change failure chain." Undoubtedly, by the time you read this article, court action will have commenced and battle lines will be reinforced. Let the circus begin! While circuses can be entertaining, is this really the realm for effective change? Sadly, this appears to be a public relations attempt and not the way to effectuate a real and lasting difference.
It takes extraordinary steps to accomplish successful and enduring change. As an experienced change management consultant, I frequently witness organizations unintentionally assemble the links in a change failure chain. Typically, the best way to combat the change failure journey is to highlight the links and then engage in concerted efforts to break these links. Unfortunately, with the proposed changes and the methods for arriving at them, it appears that the administration is intentionally assembling these links. What are they?
Link 1 – Confusion
When the scope and/or goals of a change initiative are not clearly spelled out and then honestly communicated, the natural result is confusion. Considering the relatively short period of time that VP Biden's task force has spent examining this issue, there can be no doubt that the scope and the goals are vaguely stated. In fact, the catalyst for the change hasn't been clearly defined. Do we really need such legislative and executive actions? Do we have consensus as to the issue driving these actions? Whatever these answers may be, why the rush to implement a solution to a question not clearly defined? By predetermining the solution based on a likely preconceived agenda, the administration intentionally creates confusion with the misguided belief that any solution is better than no solution. After all, if you can't beat them, confuse them.
Link 2 – Fear
We all have both clear fears and a general fear of the unknown. Typically, confusion begets fear. FDR's words are never truer (All we have to fear, is fear itself) when it comes to changes. We don't know what it really means or the long term impact unless it's clearly spelled out. As part of the run-up to the proposed policy, the administration has stoked the fears of all sides on this issue. For everyone in general, the message is: accept these proposals or risk further gun related tragedies. For gun ownership groups and their respective supporters in Congress, the stance is: support these measures or deal with your conscience. The real fear stoking is for elected officials: don't support the policy, or be labeled as unwilling to change in the face of Newtown or worse, tacitly encouraging those that would partake in the violence. Fear is not an overly effective motivator, but it does rile people up. Naturally, there is also a fear of the erosion of 2nd amendment rights.
Link 3 – Resentment
In a change initiative, if the change itself or the sponsors and/or change team are being resented, the change is in serious trouble. The best way to combat resentment is real inclusion of the affected parties. Their opinions and input must be seriously considered and considered with equal weight as to the others. Legitimate effort must be made to incorporate them into the planning, communication and execution. Without their real inclusion, the plan will likely be vigorously fought and its outcome will be in peril.
Without taking sides, it certainly appears that the NRA and gun ownership groups were given just a token seat at the table. Perhaps it was to show that they were included. If so, this effort publically failed and likely caused even further resentment. Whenever a large group is potentially disenfranchised with a possible solution, the planners (aka Biden's team) should have taken extra steps to legitimately include them and from a very early stage. With some of the vitriol espoused, especially on the gun rights side, it is quite obvious that there was no real inclusion.
Link 4 – Push Back
This the final link on a change failure chain. At this stage, there is active dissent and continuous efforts, both publically and discretely, are being made to either completely derail the change or dramatically alter it. While it's possible that somehow the change initiative can still succeed, this is not a wager most of us would make. After all, it's next to impossible to work on bigger issues, when everywhere you turn there is another fire raging.
Even before the president's policy announcement, the push back was in full force. With the probable court battles ensuing, any effectuation of this policy will likely be bottlenecked. Are we then any closer to a) identifying the real issue, b) legitimately including all the affected parties and most importantly c) being and feeling safer at schools, movie theaters, malls, etc.? If anything, this unnecessarily rushed and preconceived solution package, has moved us further away from a real and unbiased discussion that could lead to a real and lasting difference. And that is a tragedy in itself.