A resistor is an electronic device that, well, resists an electric current.
You know what happens when you try to “overcome” that resistance and push too much current through a resistor?
It burns out.
The same thing happens when you try to overcome resistance to change by pushing people through it. They burn out. And the results can be catastrophic.
Assuming a reasonably healthy and positive culture, resistance is an important signal. It tells us that people’s lives may be negatively impacted by the change we’re trying to implement. The result is often that anything gained by making a particular change may be offset by a drop in production when people fail to perform to standards because their lives and work is disrupted.
And you might be surprised that research show that the social impact of change is far more important than the technical side. For example, when people who have established bonds and form an effective team are uprooted, productivity, creativity and overall performance suffer far worse than when they are asked to make functional technical changes in a work process.
One of the most popular “go to” strategies “the manager” employs––and one of the worst––is to try to get people to “buy-in.” If you’ve got to try to sell a change you’ve missed a vital step. You didn’t fully understand the impact of said change on the lives of the people who have to do it.
Forget “buy-in” and start askin’. I’m not trying to be clever––I’m deadly serious…
The earlier you involve people in any change process, and the more input they have in that process, the more likely they are to support the change. They are also much more likely to identify flaws in the plan. The earlier this happens, the easier it is to make adjustments.
Some management experts emphasize participation as an essential element. Research shows that this has to be approached with caution––and the caution is predicated on very human-centric aspects of leadership. Specifically, when you ask people to participate, it better be because you sincerely value their input.
From Paul Lawrence writing in Harvard Business Review:
“Participation will never work so long as it is treated as a device to get other people to do what you want them to. Real participation is based on respect. And respect is not acquired by just trying; it is acquired when the staff people face the reality that they need the contributions of the operating people.”
And this is not a new idea! Lawrence published that article in 1969. It means even more today.
One fatal flaw, and another Lawrence and his colleagues identified 50 years ago, is the assumption that people will automatically resist change. You know what happens with assumptions––I won’t repeat the tired old joke.
The problem with that assumption is that it colors the way leaders approach their teams when presenting or promoting a change. When the leader assumes people will resist, it’s too easy to treat them like stubborn children.
Rather than going into a change expecting resistance, why not assume that people will be excited by the change?
Of course, your responsibility is to be an enthusiastic champion for the change. Lead by example. If this change is really a great thing and you know it––show it!
That alone, however, is not enough. And it can’t be a “one-off.” If you’re not authentic––if you haven’t built a solid foundation of trust––people will smell the stench of treachery a mile off.
This is just one reason why human-centric leadership must be a ongoing practice…
What we share in THE SENSEI LEADER Movement is not a luxury or just some attempt to be “nice.” These are essential humanistic leadership disciplines.
More than anything else, people support change when they respect and trust their leaders. This respect, trust and loyalty is built over time and continually reaffirmed by action.
To earn respect, trust and loyalty, you have to extend it. The leader goes first!
And therein lies a tremendous opportunity whenever change is necessary. Involve people…
• Engage them in the process of change––as I said, early and often.
• Involve organic leaders at all levels. You’ll find some your best leaders on the front lines. Engage them and others follow willingly.
• Show them that you value their knowledge, experience, wisdom and input.
• Demonstrate your trust in them by sharing responsibility for implementation and for creative course adjustment through the process.
• Practice active compassion. Express genuine interest in how this change will affect their lives, their job performance, personal fulfillment, career ambitions and their relationships within the organization.
“The manager” tries to motivate people to accept a change with bribes or threats. The Leader Inspires people by appealing to their best emotional and intellectual interests.
“The manager” will delegate by simply assigning tasks to implement the change. The Leader Empowers people so they can participate fully and meaningfully in the change.
“The manager” will try to drive or push the change through at all cost.
The Leader Guides people through the change creating a successful outcome for everyone involved.
General Patton famously said:
“You drive cattle. You lead people.”
The more you try to drive cattle, the more they try to push back. They slow down. They continually try to go in another direction.
If you want to get people to act like cattle––go ahead and try to drive them. At no time is this more true than trying to push through a change. Large or small.
Inspire, Empower and Guide. And to address whatever resistance still remains…
Understand their resistance and respond to their concerns with respect––and with your sincere attention.
As I said at the start. Don’t try to “overcome” resistance. Embrace it. You probably won’t satisfy everyone––but you’ll earn even deeper respect, trust and loyalty with the people who stay…
And they’ll get the job done––and more!