Organ Donor Rejection, or When an Organization Rejects Change

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May 26, 2014

I know; this is a strange title for an HR article, however, it’s an important concept in the talent recruitment world.

What happens when a star player from one organization is transplanted into another and fails? It’s the proverbial organ rejection.

A new, well-functioning organ brought in to save the body from potential death, or in the case of talent, a 5 star player brought in to rescue an organization from certain peril — and the organization rejects it without any apparent reason. Think about antibodies attacking the host, or in this case, the new executive.

When the organization won’t accept the new

It’s a hire that is well-intentioned, measured, and expected to save a department, or maybe an entire organization. That kind of  person should be a good fit, but they are not.

Like a broken record, we continue to see failing organizations look to fix their operating issues by transplanting in a high performing individual, and failing. The hard part is the individual may have the skills and attributes, and may even seem to be a good fit during the vetting process, and then the unfortunate happens — the organization doesn’t accept the donor.

On a macro level, the rejection has less to do with the individual and more to do with systemic and perpetuated practices and beliefs around how the work should get done. On a micro level it plays out in disagreements or conflict on a regular basis.

Statements like “they don’t get it” and “if they only understood how we do things around here” get bantered about. The reality in most scenarios is the individual is brought on to change those very behaviors that are so cherished and revered. Resistance to change leads to resistance to the newbie, and eventual rejection (usually, the person leaves out of frustration or gets fired).

From the individuals viewpoint, they are there for a reason — to make things better. They have done it before so why can’t they do it again? And then they run into the brick walls and the pushback. One might say they should just keep pushing or ignore it, but you can’t for any length of time, and this may only accelerate the rejection.

Real change happens at the leadership level

So many folks “transplanted” try to find middle ground – evolution not revolution. Change slows down to a crawl and then the very reason they were brought in gets neutralized, eventually leading to rejection for not making changes.

So what is an individual to do? I wish I had the answer, and no, don’t buy that best seller because what worked for them probably won’t work for you.

For the organization the real change needs to happen at the leadership level — embracing the need for necessary change, accepting new and different ways. The onus is on them, not the individual. A spoonful of medicine every day is needed to prevent the inevitable from happening.

It seems simple, yet it’s the hardest thing for any organization to do. Look in the mirror and accept what you really see — before you are on the donor list.