Are you asking a change agent to make a change, and then resisting the change?

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Many managers want to get great results.  To do this, they seek and find high performers who drive toward these results.  One way a high performer can achieve great results is through creating and implementing structures and processes that provide ongoing value and systemic improvement.  Or, in other words, change.

The high performer is a change agent.  This is what managers want.  Managers want change for the better, and rely on the “high performers” to instigate and implement the change.  That’s what makes them a high performer.

But there is a mistake that many current managers make in seeing this model through:  They give feedback to the person instigating the change that there is resistance to the change.  This is a flaw in current management design, and one that is all too common.

Here’s what I mean:

When change occurs in an organization, there inevitably will be complaints about the change.  The complaints will be about whoever is instigating the change.  It doesn’t matter if it is good or bad change, people somewhere in the organization will be resistant to the change.  This is normal and part of the “change curve.”  The complaints will be inevitably be about the person instigating the change.  That was supposedly the high performer, who was encouraged by the manager to create the change.

Many managers react to the resistance or backlash to the change by “giving feedback” to the change agent.  The feedback may be, “There were some complaints about the process you implemented. . .”

The manager is essentially asking that there be positive change in the organization but without the residual effects of change.  A harmonious and beautiful change with no complaints seems to be the goal.

This is absurd, of course.  Does the manager want the change, or does the manager want harmony?

If the manager wants the change, the feedback should be based on the following order of importance:

  1. Did the change occur?
  2. Did the change help the thing turn out for the better?
  3. Did people experiencing the change have a chance to express their concerns?

Many managers will focus on number 3, and make two mistakes in the process.

  1. They’ll first assume that any expression of concern (a.k.a., complaint) is something that could have been avoided or eliminated.
  2. This is the responsibility of the change agent, and not the manager or other stakeholders in the change to listen and address the concerns/complaints.

If a manager gives feedback that asks a change agent to implement the change without any concerns, then the manager is asking the impossible.  It isn’t change unless there is some resistance.  In fact, if a change agent says that a change occurred and there was no resistance, this is an indicator that there actually wasn’t change.

So managers – if you have the privilege of having a change agent on your team, focus your discussions on the first two things:  Is the change occurring? Are you getting the results of the change?

The third thing – the complaints and concerns from those experiencing the change, is of third-order importance (note that it is still important), and should be an area where the manager should help the change agent, rather than “give feedback” that there were complaints.

The manager should listen and understand the resistances, and learn from them.  But the task at hand is not throw them back at the change agent and then use it as proof that the change agent did something wrong (perhaps at the next performance review?).

Instead, the manager should see the complaints as evidence that something is going right, and give positive reinforcement to the change agent that this is the case.

For you management designers out there – do you have a method to ensure managers keep from undermining the change they supposedly want?

 Related articles:

Using perceptions to manage: How this undermines efforts for change

What to do when someone on your team resists change (part 1)

A tool for how to tell if feedback is relevant to your job

What inputs should a manager provide performance feedback on?

When to provide performance feedback using direct observation: Practice sessions

When to provide performance feedback using direct observation: On the job

Areas of focus in providing performance feedback based on direct observation: Tangible artifacts

What managers can do about “intangible human-based artifacts”

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About Walter Oelwein
Walter Oelwein, CMC, CPT, helps managers become better at managing. To do this, he founded Business Performance Consulting, LLC .


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  1. […] managers can quickly fall into the trap of resisting the change they instigated by reacting negatively to the ramifications of change, and seeking to eliminate all resistances […]

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