What to do when someone on your team resists change (part 2)

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In my previous article, I describe the importance of not attacking a change agent, but instead taking steps to manage the change, not the change agent.  Many managers receive “feedback” that is resistance to change, and then turn around and give that feedback to the change agents, implying that the manager doesn’t actually want the change agent to instigate the change.

The first five steps to this were: 1. Listen 2. Document the issue 3. Track the issues. 4. Delay in responding to them 5. Look at the issues as a team.

Today, I provide tips on what to do next:

6.  Communicate your findings – the more targeted the better

You typically know the source of the resistance/complaint.  You tracked it, right?  Now you can respond directly to that person.  Explain what you did (discussed it as a team) and what you plan to do (keep going with the change, most likely).  I am not a fan of communicating broadly the list of concerns and the responses, because it is somewhat akin to public feedback.  By communicating broadly, you are trying to adjust the thinking for a specific person via communicating with a broad group.  This creates unintended consequence of changing the broad group’s thinking when it isn’t necessarily a problem.  It’s better to circle back to the person who expressed the concern in the first place.  If there is a network of people who believe the same thing, that person then gets to address the results.

7.  Express thanks and ask the person to contribute to the change

As you circle back to the person who raised the concerns, express thanks and empathy to the person.  Here’s what that looks like: “Thank you for expressing your concerns. This took courage and indicates you are looking out for the interests of the group and your colleagues.”  Then explain the course you plan to take (most likely moving forward with the change).  Then ask the person to contribute to the change, “Can I count on you to help us in moving forward with this and doing your part?

8.  Track that you had the conversation

Just as when you tracked the initial complaint, you can track the follow-up conversation.   This proves that you listened to and addressed the resistance/complaint.  It also reinforced why you are moving forward with the change.  It also passes a test as to whether you, the manager, wanted the change in the first place.

9.  Assess the results of the change

Then there’s the macro-issue of the change itself.  There were the complaints, and then there are the macro issues of the change.  Did the change actually happen?  Did it get the results you were looking for?  Are the things better than before?   Was it worth it?  If so, then the resistances/complaints you received were a part of this process of change.  The resistances you experienced along the way were an indicator that the change was happening, rather than an indicator that the change was bad.

10. Celebrate the results with everyone

The project team (or change agents) that create the change should be praised, but all who experienced the change also should understand the results.  This is where I do support public feedback – feedback that focuses on reinforcing positive behaviors by the larger group that the larger group needs to continue performing.  The larger group should be made aware of:

  1. What the change was.
  2. What the intent of the change was
  3. What the results was
  4. How everyone contributed to these results by working on the change (even and perhaps especially the resistors.)

So rather than reacting to resistances from individuals by turning around and “providing feedback” to the change agent, use this process to use resistances as data and a means for improving both the change and bringing along those who are resistant to the change.

In this model, the change agent can focus on her strengths—creating change, and the manager can focus on his strengths – managing the change.

In your management design, do you have a chance for managers to practice this?  Do you have any structures set up for managers to handle a “change event” that allows them to slip into a structure like this?  Or do you rely on your managers to do this independently?

Related Articles:

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

Using perceptions to manage: How this undermines efforts for change

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

Public feedback drives performance down and doesn’t count as performance management

How Public Feedback Can Make the Situation Worse

Four more reasons giving public feedback backfires

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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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