Unintentionally change agents in the manager or free-agent role can create resistance. By being aware of brain science, the impact of wrong metrics and what drives decisions you can reduce resistance and use more effective change methods that fit complex communities.
Imagine you’re at the top of Whistler Mountain and you’ve never skied before. Someone you know but don’t necessarily respect or trust has told you downhill skiing is good for you and financial performance will improve once you’ve thrown yourself down 2,000+ vertical meters (5,000 feet). You might consider it if your working life would also improve. Suddenly your boss pushes you, or your boss’s boss and you’re flying down a double black diamond (expert double time) run. There’s no fireplace or martini in site. No hot tub or spa. You are literally airborne with no guarantee of survival. How would that work for you?
When companies decide to implement change, managers and all those impacted are told to ‘make it so’ in the words of Jean-Luc Picard for non-Star Trekkies. Managers can make decisions without considering the impact on anyone especially employees. Not all do, but they can. Their position of authority gives them permission. Picard’s directives worked because there was a high level of trust. But trust isn’t a given in most companies especially ones relying on authority based command and control management style.
A lot has been written on the logical part of change, which could easily summed up by ‘Don’t push!’ yet companies continue to do so. They also overlook the obvious (if it weren’t so ignored) reality.
Company performance is powered by people’s creativity and contribution.
Disengage that and you’ve set up resistance. What are companies overlooking that causes resistance and undermines trust?
1: Everything is Connected to Everything Else
When you’re being pushed to make a change, you’ll pass the pushing on. It’s a natural thing to do and it is a direct function of being immersed in an environment that favors pushing over taking initiative. Step back to observe what over arching dynamic is being created. Replacing the push approach with inviting employees to take the initiative. Give them control to design a positive experience.
Caveat: You can’t control what they do or you’ve just made the environment unsafe again but you can set parameters and constraints. See Step 2 and 3.
2: Companies are Really Communities of Connected, Caring People
Most change initiatives are treated like you’re fixing the engine of your car. But you’re not a mechanic. You are making decisions that have an impact on people’s lives. Responsible leadership and decision-making demands engaging those impacted in the design and implementation.
Engaging the organization in people friendly change means handing over the tasks of redesigning the systems used to get things done to those who are tasked with getting things done. Leaders must exist at every level or the capacity of the company will be limited to short term financial reports, which ignore the impact on social and ecological health. Business as usual is no longer an option.
Note: If in #1, permission has been given to take the initiative but nothing has happened you’ll know that the risk of doing so is greater than the perception of genuine care from management and others.
3: Human Beings Still Think Like Cavemen
From a brain science point of view you and I are still cavemen. The brain is quick to pick up on change and then decides if it’s important to survival or not. Friend or foe? Foe dominates over ‘friend’ until trust is established and so the gap widens between managers, change agents and those feeling powerless to influence what happens next. Unless the environment is saturated in high trust, the flight, fright, flee or freeze part of the brain kicks in and survival takes over. Decisions made out of fear are prone to failure because negative emotions impair thinking and slow intuition.
Biologically speaking your body functions in either growth or protection mode. Organizations operate pretty much the same way by definition.
The best antidote is to replace the fear of losing control with greater trust in creative talent. Shifting to a level of higher trust as a leader means being willing to grow – to develop the advanced skills that enable you to let go of control knowing you’re not going to lose it – but will gain some personal freedom, more sleep at night and better relationships.
The dynamic between growth and protection can be obscured by the state of emergency a company operates in so it is wise to engage your new hires as intentional overseers of what is going on because they aren’t immersed in the routine yet and can see more clearly what is working for or against desired change. You can also use an outside observer to provide essential feedback.
Unless you’ve paid attention to creating a workplace where trust, a strong sense of belonging and supportive relationships provide emotional safety, change initiatives will create resistance. The good news is that you can use change to recalibrate the workplace environment to higher levels of trust by how you choose to engage.
The biggest mistake companies make is to act as if the mechanics measuring performance are more important than the people powering it. Implementing change in a complex adaptive community where for every action there is a reaction, asks for a growth mindset on the part of all and a willingness to rethink the metrics so that they measure what matters to the overall performance of the company and not just one interested party, most often shareholders.
The beauty of investing time to understand what makes change efforts effective is in the speed and scope of the change. Systems matter. And so do people.
Join me for a 30-minute program on Reducing Resistance to Change in Companies – Thursday, January 21st or Saturday, January 23, 2016 (so far).
Register here: http://app.webinarjam.net/register/5311/9ded3b86bf
Dawna provides peer-leadership support and advanced skill sets to internal change agents and new hires in the role of change agent (including managers, product or project owners). She also oversees organizational transformation so that the entire dynamic reveals the most effective leverage points to minimize risk of complacency.