May 16, 2017

Managing Those That Resist Change

 |  By: Mike Opperman

If you own a large dairy, it’s likely that you’ve gotten where you are because you embrace change. At some point you decided to take your small dairy and make it bigger, then bigger again, and maybe even bigger again. Or you’ve decided to start a new venture in another state, or start a new marketing arrangement.

Whatever the case, when you have decided to make a significant change, your decision impacted others around you, including your employees and certainly family members or business partners. How you engage with the people around you will go a long way toward a successful new venture.

The biggest reason why change efforts fail, according to Sally Blount and Shana Carroll at Northwestern University, is people. “A core part of the job of a leader is to help others overcome the inherent, very human bias toward maintaining the status quo,” they say.

The status quo debate comes up often in conversations between generations, when the younger generation wants to come into the business and try new practices. It can also come up in conversations about starting new business ventures or making significant investments in the operation. Resistance from stakeholders in your business could arise at any point in the decision making process. Blount and Carroll offer solutions on how to overcome resistance in a recent Harvard Business Review article:

  • Identify the source of resistance. “You first need to identify who has the biggest potential to thwart positive change,” Blount and Carroll say. “Then you have to unstick them.” They say there are three primary reasons people resist change:
    • Those that disagree on substantive grounds. They don’t agree with your analysis or they may feel they have information that hasn’t been considered. “Your job is to listen and be open to changing your approach based on what you learn,” Blount and Carroll say.
    • People do not feel respected. Researchers say this can happen with people who have been part of the organization for a long time and may feel that they have not had a chance to be part of the process. Again, the solution is to listen and make sure those entities have been heard.
    • People may feel rushed. They may feel they have not had enough time to fully digest the information. “Figure out whether any timelines can be adjusted to reduce some of this time-based stress,” Blount and Carroll say.
  • Talk with the resistance. When you go to discuss change opportunities with those that may be resisting the action, researchers suggest keeping four ground rules in mind:
    • Forget efficiency. “If a specific work group or person is very important to your organization’s future, and they are resisting needed change, you have to take the time to talk with them in person,” Blount and Carroll say. “And do it in under as little time pressure as possible.”
    • Focus on listening. Help everyone feel understood, starting with good listening. The researchers say that when you are in these conversations, “take up no more than 20% of the airtime and when you speak, try to repeat back what you’ve heard as much as possible.”
    • Be open to change. Be ready to learn something new and, if necessary, modify your plans. Show that the opinions of others matter.
    • Have multiple conversations. The researchers say that effective dialogue with resistors typically requires two conversations. One to listen and diagnose the root of the resistance, and a second to explain what will change, or not, from that conversation. Take a couple of days between conversations so resistors understand that you have fully considered their viewpoints.

Managing change is critical to every organization, especially one that is destined to continue to grow and innovate.  How you manage change is critical to the success of your future business and the people involved in making it happen.