When “Resistance to Change” Is Really Something Very Different
What gets described as “resistance to change” (when that phrase is pointed at others) would often actually more accurately be labeled as:
“Resistance to your idea.”
When leaders say their employees are “being resistant to change,” the more accurate statement would be:
“They're not doing what I want them to do.”
In some of the major Lean transformation stories (in manufacturing in healthcare) usually include stories about some percentage of managers, doctors, or employees who chose to leave the organization. This is often a badge of honor of sorts. Sometimes, those people get labeled as “concrete heads” (I term I think we shouldn't use, as I've blogged about).
Leaders rationalize the departures by saying things like:
- They didn't like Lean
- They couldn't handle Lean
- They couldn't accept change
I was having a discussion about this recently and a light bulb went off. It was an epiphany.
Hear me out.
So you're saying those people LEFT the organization… because… they COULDN'T HANDLE CHANGE?
Quitting a job to go someplace else is a very major life change.
I created this image to helps illustrate a scenario like this, where somebody gets tired of being told to “get on the bus” or to “fall in line” or that they're being “resistant to change” or “difficult.”
That person who quit and left the organization isn't resistant to change. They're not resistant to all change. They proved that by walking out. They're not resistant to changes they initiate.
Maybe they just didn't like what you were doing. Or, they didn't like what you were making them do. Or, they didn't like you making them do something, whether that something is going to a Lean class or considering a new way of doing some form of work.
Sometimes, leaders are pushing well-intended and “correct” changes at people without explaining why.
When a bureaucrat or authority figure refuses to explain ‘why', he is showing fear (because he's not sure why) and contempt (because he doesn't have to care).
The executive might also be busy and think they don't have to explain why or engage people in that conversation about “why?” It might be more a matter of ignorance than contempt.
Far too often, I see leaders at all levels encounter what they call “resistance.” They give up on the “resistor” too quickly. They label them as a bad person. That's unfortunate.
We should “lean in” to the conversation, as they say. Maybe that “resistance” is really just somebody having questions… or valid concerns. These are things we should talk about rather than pushing that person away.
“But I don't have time to engage people that way!”
I guess you don't have time to be successful?
As I've learned through studying (and trying to practice) “motivational interviewing,” resistant is a natural part of the change process. It's to be expected. It's also something to be worked through collaboratively.
As a friend (who works in healthcare) said the other day in discussing this topic:
It amazes me how strongly people hang on to the “resistant to change” label when it's usually more a matter of resistance to being told what to do by someone who doesn't fully understand the work or the challenges.
It's definitely true that a little resistance is expected with anything new. There's been more than a couple of times I've found that just being patient and giving people some time to process everything was all that was needed. Once they see the value in the new thing, they accept and support it.
I think some people are just resistant to resistance.”
Maybe the CEO in my image above would be fired by his board for being “resistant to resistance?”
Final thought… I found this bit of wisdom from Dr. John Toussaint's first book On the Mend. His book had stories about some people who left during the early years of Lean. But he also wrote this great passage:
“The old blame and shame culture is likely to emerge at this point [when change becomes difficult. When people resist change, others tend to blame them for being an obstacle and diminish their role in the new process. Organizations must learn that resistance is a good and necessary part of the process. Without sufficient resistance to test and challenge the new ideas, true buy-in and commitment to the new order will be elusive at best.”
Or, organizations (and individuals) can be resistant to that idea ;-)