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Resisting the Resistance

A lot of change advice focuses on dealing with resistance to change. Everyone knows that people don’t like change, and most leaders get ready to answer questions about change as part of their prep. But the biggest problem with most changes is not the verbal resistance of the nay-sayers, but those who say nothing but do nothing; the passive resisters.

Passive resisters don’t disagree with the change, they don’t tell you there is anything wrong with you, the leader, is proposing and in a workshop or training setting they appear to participate. If you were measuring engagement with the change based on verbal comments, hands raised or participation in sessions you would think that the change has been accepted by the silent majority. As a result leaders often spend time ‘dealing with’ the vocal minority and assume that if they are ‘sorted out’ that everyone else will be fine.

This is a mistake.

The vocal minority can often benefit the leader as a way of fully explaining the change when answering their questions. In my experience the more extreme views are seen to be so and they self marginalise and the others are often a lack of understanding or something missing from your information.

But for every voice raised in public or obvious non participation in the training, assume that there will be a larger group that are not engaged but don’t want you to know:

There will be lots of reasons for this, from fear of failure, loss of security and stability, people who need to see things in action to believe it, those who just take time and many other ‘personal reasons’. Most can all be helped to engage given the right approach to the implementation of the change. But they are not your real problem.

The group that really demands your attention are those who are ‘riding it out until you’ve gone, just like every other manager before you’. They have often been in the organisation a long time, have been promoted to a reasonable position and/or have made themselves valuable because of their place in the ‘corporate memory’. They are happy with the way they do things now and don’t want to ‘learn new tricks’. The current approach sits well with them. Some have designed things to suit themselves or have built up the fixes and tweeks to the system over many years. These are the same tweaks and fixes that you’ve identified as needing modified. The people themselves are  often the road blocks in the system that you are proposing to streamline. They are the ones that don’t want the ‘culture of empowerment’ that you have proposed as that takes away their power. They won’t change and won’t tell you why they won’t change, until the change grinds to a slow halt and then they will tell you that ‘maybe this wasn’t the right change for the organisation’. And you listen because they are managers, or senior figures.

The trick with this group is to build in early short term action focused measurability to the imitative. They can ride out long term KPIs and you can’t see the reason for failure until too late. You need activity measures, action based reporting, usage stats and anything that shows who is doing the ‘new thing’  and how often. You need short term staff engagement stats, not just annual surveys, and they need to be measurable by manager. You need evidence that your expensive and important change is ‘not optional’ and that everyone who should be doing it is doing it.

And if the stats say otherwise you’ve got a ‘conversation for commitment’ on your hands.

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