Each week I read articles, blogs, service offerings, and social media forums discussing change management and the issue of overcoming resistance. The general tone is that ‘No one ever wants to change.’ and ‘Every great idea you have will be met with equally vehement resistance.’ Whether the extremism is accurate, it often is the case in business that one person’s bright idea becomes their colleague’s next headache.
Most leaders understand this. Some go to great lengths to ‘socialize’ their ideas to gain acceptance, taking the long path to drawing out any resistance before committing to action. Others promote the action’s value and benefits, ask for concerns – as they have read that as a good leader one is supposed to do so – then quickly dismiss them.
This is the type of everyday meeting where all the issues of change management and resistance play out.
We have found that a group will, on average, articulate 66 ‘indicators of success’ – aspirations, goals, and desired outcomes – describing the high level purpose statements of strategies, policies, projects, and business relationships such as alliances and mergers. However, at the same time, groups, on average, experience or foresee almost as many, 61, ‘hesitations’.
These fall into three types of concern, which left unresolved would become active or passive resistance.
Three questions will draw out the concerns, worries, and reservations potential new actions have triggered in stakeholders:
1. “What do you see as the reason to take action on this subject, rather than doing nothing?” (Replaces “We need to do this! and “Don’t you see it?!” with the person’s specific reasoning for disagreeing that any action is necessary.)
2. “What negative side-effects could these actions have on you or others?” (Replaces the vague “Do you see any problems?” and proactively identifies the damage that could be triggered, which is usually in the blind-spot of those who endorse the action.)
3. “What barriers do you see today, or in the future, that will prevent us implementing these actions?” (Replaces the vague “Do you see any problems?” and “We can handle the issues during implementation, there aren’t any serious ones.” with specific concerns.)
You can ask the three resistance questions in a meeting, over the phone, or invite people to send you an email.
Resistance of varying type and degree constrain progress when multiple people must coordinate their actions to attain a shared outcome.
If you ask every stakeholder, you might receive 61 different responses as to why the actions are unnecessary, impractical, and damaging. (That is probably quite a few more than you are used to hearing in planning meetings where the last five minutes are dutifully reserved for “Any issues?”.)
This type of proactive, preventative management, is less appealing to those who get their joy and self-worth from being great ‘managers’ fixing problems, wading in to be the ‘hero’. These three questions lead to drastically smoother implementations and ‘execution’ – which some find even more appealing.
There is a saying that ‘the soft stuff is the hard stuff, but the most valuable stuff’. It doesn’t need to be hard.
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