Implementing change takes a bit of work

How many of you have an employee or employees who seem to resist any new initiative or change. When you are modifying the workplace rules, processes, or physical space, resistance is a part of life. It never works to tell people to get over it and get back to work. As a matter of fact, that autocratic approach will deepen the division and strengthen the resistance.

When I facilitate sessions on change management, my clients and I always talk about how to administer change while addressing resistant behaviors. Let me share some of my recommendations.

First, as a leader we must understand that not all resistance is bad. The resistor can stimulate creativity and help us analyze all aspects of the issue at hand. There are many classical cases where the resistor was right. In the Kennedy Administration, Arthur Schlesinger and Robert McNamara were opposed to the invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. At NASA, several engineers were fearful of launching the Challenger Space Shuttle at the coldest temperature ever. Unfortunately, in both situations, these resistors were ignored. Good leaders listen to people with opposing views and consider the possibility that the resistor has good points.

Second, spend some dedicated time as a group talking about positive team behaviors and counterproductive behaviors. We have to give people a full listening but we also have to be able to talk about undesirable behaviors. I often say to my clients, “Dysfunctional behavior that is not addressed with be perpetuated.” People do what they think is right or acceptable. If we disagree with their behaviors, we have to be able to respectfully explain our feelings and the business reasons for new behaviors.

Third, during meetings, set ground rules to discuss resistance openly when it occurs. Although ground rules can be offered by the leader or facilitator, they should not be mandated by them. They should arise from and be owned by the participants. It is valuable to have these ground rules on the wall at each meeting and revisit then periodically or when necessary.

Fourth, set expectations of team members and ask them to identify their level of agreement or disagreement. Also, seek the expectations team members have of you, the leader, and other team members. Any expectations where consensus is not reached will require further discussion and problem-solving.

If leaders ignore or try to bully resistors, the resistance goes underground and can poison the culture. I have been told by employees, “The customer never sees the conflicts we have with management.” I am afraid the secret of conflict in an organization is never held from the customer. I can walk through a plant or office and tell if people feel good about their team or if the team is fragmented. If I can see it, rest assured your customers sees it also.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s completely revised, third printing of “The Facilitative Leader: Behaviors that Enable Success,” visit his Web site, or call him at 740-629-4536. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.