Change. While it may be one of life’s constants, it’s still difficult for some to accept, especially in a workplace context. Organizations go through changes large and small in an effort to improve. Their reasons are many, but for most, it’s their desire to stay ahead in a competitive market. Once they embark on their change journey though, they’re invariably faced by mixed reactions from their staff, some of whom resist any form of change whatsoever. These people are generally motivated by one or both of two lines of thought:
- “There’s nothing wrong with the process; it works just fine. After all, we’ve been doing the same thing for years.”
- “They’re coming after my job! I’m going to be made redundant!”
The behaviors and attitudes these people project can slow down any efforts a business makes to stay relevant to their customers. They can even halt the organization’s progress altogether.
So how can you get the resisters to see the opportunities and join you on board the SS Change Maker?
A recent networking breakfast I went to, organized by the Association for Manufacturing Excellence, had some great tips for overcoming this hurdle. The speakers included Mica Julien, the Executive Manager Field Service Group from Brisbane City Council, along with other seasoned Lean Management professionals. Discussion centered around countering resistance through a process of continuous improvement, and also included a wealth of wisdom from these veteran champions of change. Here are the top three take-aways I learned about how to turn change resisters into change accepters (and even embracers).
1. Engage with them
Just because they’re not on board right now, doesn’t mean you can’t find common ground. Often, their resistance comes from a place of not being able to see the broader benefits. “After all,” they conclude. “My work has always been up to par, so why change a good thing?”
Take some time out with them, perhaps over a coffee, and try to understand what their concerns are. Talk about the project in terms of the value and opportunities you’re trying to unlock — for them, their colleagues, and the organization as a whole. Explain the importance of their part in helping to make it a success. And maybe even look at some of the consequences if things don’t change. Ask them to step back for a moment and take a critical look at their role from the outside. Can they identify any opportunities for change and improvement looking through this lens? How might those changes contribute to the broader project?
2. Change your language
Take a look at what works for them where they are in the business. What motivates them?What makes them tick? How does this fit into the overall objective of your project? Help them understand how the change will improve the way the business operates; that it will provide better support for them and their team, helping them work more effectively, and get better results. Use language and scenarios that directly relate to their work, and their team environment, to help them get a grasp on what the project will mean at their level.
A little visibility can go a long way too. Build an image of how the change will benefit them — you might map out their processes and activities so they can see the gaps, and better understand the improvements the change will bring for them.
3. Bad news can also be good news
For some managers and staff confronted with change, a simple statement like “We need to improve this,” can translate to “You’re not doing your job”. It’s important to reassure people who think this way that you are happy with what they’re doing, and you’re creating a space for them to grow and excel even further. We can only label news as truly bad when it’s the result of ongoing problems that no one is fixing. Work with managers and staff to identify what aspects of their area they think are important to measure. What needs must be fulfilled to achieve the improvement you’re aiming for? Help them understand how their goals and yours will align to deliver good news for all concerned.
Bringing it all together
Once the project is underway and you’ve started to see the different improvements come into being, make sure everyone stays on the journey with you. Empower them. Give them access to the tools and metrics you’ve created so they can track and refine their own performance. If they see a need or opportunity for improvement, create the space for them to start making decisions themselves, without having to wait for top-down instructions or directives to act. Remember to spend time with the people working at the coal face so you can find out what challenges they’re having and what you can do to remove obstacles from their path. Visit your different teams without any objective in mind, other than to understand their work and the processes they’re following. In Lean Management terms, this approach is called a “Gemba Walk”. The Gemba Walk can help demonstrate your commitment to your teams’ ongoing efforts and to better understanding their challenges and triumphs. In this way too, you become a listener and supporter, rather than a rescuer; a manager who builds their teams’ capabilities, and their resilience in the face of change.