Rethinking Resistance

Do your employees like change?

When I ask this question of participants in my people management workshops, the answer is almost overwhelmingly no.

But when I ask part two of the question: do YOU like change – the answer is usually overwhelmingly yes!

Isn’t that curious? What happens when you become the boss? Do you go through some magic door and change your mindset about change?

I think the answer is often yes. And if we think about why this happens, it may give us some clues to getting our people on board not just in the short term but for the long haul so change is part of ‘business as usual’.

And change is ‘business as usual’, so why does it still consume vast amounts of our time? Why do managers still find themselves dealing with pockets of resistance and negative attitudes?

Let’s look at a couple of things about your role as a leader of change:

– your own mindset

– you as a role model

Moving house

What is the difference in your mindset when you are a driver of change and when you are a recipient of change?

For example: think about a time when you decided to move home. You might have been offered a promotion or opportunity that involves relocation. On the other hand, you might have lost your job and need to find work elsewhere. You might want to move closer to (or further from!) other family members. You might just want a change of scenery or lifestyle – it could be for a myriad of reasons.

By the time you have reached your decision, you have thought about all the reasons why it’s a good thing to move as well as all the reasons why not. You have mulled over the consequences of doing it and the consequences of not. You have thought about the financial, physical and emotional costs.

You have worked out how all these changes may affect you. You have been excited by the best possible outcomes of the move and faced up to or at least given some thought to the worst possible outcomes. You’re ready. You know what you’re going to do and how to deal with whatever will, inevitably when moving home, crop up. Many of these thoughts will be conscious and deliberate (logical and reasoned) but some will also be just feelings and intuition (an emotional or intuitive response).

After what’s gone on in your mind, you’re now in the driver’s seat. You’re in control. It’s your decision.

Of course, there is that small issue of your partner’s objections – they love your existing home. It’s peaceful, all established. Everything in its place. The neighbours are great – they will even look after the mail and the cat and keep an eye out for intruders if you go away. A routine exists – and given how much is going on in your lives, at least your partner felt secure knowing something was stable, home.

Then there are the kids. Why should they have to change schools? They “couldn’t live without their friends”, “you are so cruel” – you know what I mean.

Spot the difference?

It’s obvious isn’t it? As the initiator of the decision to move we’ve completed a three-step process – the RIV test.

  1. Reasons: We know and understand the reason for the change.
  2. Implications: We’ve have thought about the implications and consequences – personal, social, financial, environmental etc. We’ve faced and answered the ‘what if’s’ and our fears. We’ve looks at the positives as well as the negatives. i.e. we’ve dealt with The Almond Effect ®.
  3. Values: We’re comfortable that the decision fits in with our values, the way we want to live our lives.

Contrast your partner and kids – they may be able to tick off step 1 but if they aren’t jumping up and down with excitement then they certainly aren’t yet fully across steps two and three. In fact you might be facing overt and covert or passive resistance. Unless you help them deal with steps 2 and 3, your move may be more trouble than its worth if you want to keep your relationships in tact.

Emotions not logic

The logical component of change is clearly in RIV step 1, knowing and understanding the reasons for the change. There’s a mixture of logic and emotion in step 2. It’s pretty well all emotion in step 3.

And we know which is the most powerful and the hardest. Dealing with emotional responses – a consequence of how our brains function.

What do we do at work to facilitate change?

Interestingly, many organizations think they do step 1 (explaining the Reasons) very well. And many do. However, it is worth questioning this: if you are experiencing resistance, ask your people to share their understanding of:

  • Why the changes in systems, processes, procedures, behaviour etc are necessary?
  • What’s driving the need for change?
  • What will be better because of the changes?
  • What will be worse if things don’t change?
  • How does this fit into the big picture, the overall plan or framework?
  • Their “WIFM” (what’s in it for me?) of the changes to the previous way of doing things?
    In fact, could you, as the manager/supervisor sum it up in plain language in 25 words or less?

I am surprised how often organizations think they have completed step 1 yet the feedback shows there are still gaps in understanding why, the reasons for change.

If your resistors can tell you the reasons for the change, then obviously the logic is OK but there is still something holding them back. It can only be their emotional responses. Some they might share with you. Others they might not either because they don’t want to (and that’s a big area for discussion in itself) or perhaps even more frustrating, they can’t even articulate them themselves.

Changing your attitude to change

Usually, when you become the driver of change or at least the implementer as a supervisor, team leader or manager, you have had the benefit and experience of looking at change from a business level. You may have been involved in identifying the problems or challenges and coming up with the solutions.

As part of this process, you will have worked through the logic and had the opportunity to work through your emotional reactions as well. e.g. what will this change mean for me and the company? How will it improve the way we do things around here and my workload? My bonus is riding on getting this done and that means a holiday for the family or maybe a new car. My boss will see that I have done a good job and so promotion or a raise may be an outcome.

So before you have to get others to change, you and most managers in change scenarios, have completed the 3 step RIV process – you understand the reasons, have looked at the implications and how it fits with your values. So you’re there, the change makes sense and you want to be part of it.

But your people (or your family!) may be lagging well behind you in the process. The RIV approach explains why you just want to get on with it – because you have already dealt with your logical and emotional reactions (consciously or unconsciously) – but if others haven’t completed that process, don’t be surprised that they don’t share your enthusiasm yet

Different mindsets about change

So I think there often is a difference in general mindset about change between managers and staff – usually because of the timing and opportunity to go through the 3 RIV step model.

The implication of this is that if your projects are off track, blowing out budgets, timeframes or requiring more resources – check how you are tracking on the RIV model with the people who are impacted, directly and indirectly, by the change. What assumptions have you made where your employees are in the RIV process? How can you find out and/or measure this? Where there are gaps, what are you doing to assist them through? It’s time consuming in the short-term but vastly more effective overall.