The only change everyone accepts comes from vending machines.
PREMISE #1: CHANGE IS NECESSARY.
In my program called “The Change Payoff: How to Turn Resistance Into Resilience and Results,” I’m often known for saying, “All progress is the result of change, but not all change is progress.” Some change is poorly conceived, ineffectively managed, and/or insanely implemented.
Nonetheless, I am a firm believer in 18th-century physicist and philosopher George Chistoph Lictenberg’s point of view. He noted, “I cannot say whether things will get better if we change; what I can say is they must change if they are to get better.”
Despite the necessity of change…
PREMISE #2: THERE WILL ALWAYS BE RESISTANCE TO CHANGE.
As a 20th-century satirical novelist, Douglas Adams wrote about that in “The Salmon of Doubt.” He wrote, “I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to changing technologies:
- Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
- Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
- Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”
I’m not sure how true that is, but I’ve heard from so many of my clients that there is a distinct division between their long-term, seasoned employees and their younger, more recently hired employees. The older ones tend to fight organizational changes a bit more vigorously while the younger ones tend to accept the changes as “that’s just the way things are around here.”
If you’re about to implement some changes in your organization (as a leader) or if you’re going to be forced to change (as an employee), you’re going to have some resistance. And why not? No matter how good or necessary a change might be, you’re always going to lose something … such as the work you do, the way you used to do things, the people with whom you worked, and a number of other things that “just seemed to work.” So it’s only natural to expect people to fight or resist those changes.
More specifically, you will find people resisting changes in one of four ways. Take a look to see which ones are active in your organization.
- COMFORT RESISTANCE: Some people cling desperately to the past … because it’s familiar. They prefer their comfortable routines to the chilling thought of having to move to the unknown. As someone said, “No organization is so screwed up that somebody doesn’t like it as it is.” Change always means giving up something, and the greater the personal sacrifice the more people feel like dragging their feet.
- CONTROL RESISTANCE: Another reason why people defend the old way of doing things is to maintain their personal stability or to feel like they’re more in control. They battle against change because they fear the future, not because they love the past. After all, if uncertainty and ambiguity eat on your nerves, you can’t get very pumped up about “change” and “progress”. And the more you dislike unpredictability, the more likely you are to protect the status quo.
- REVENGE RESISTANCE: A third group of people resist change as a way of getting even. They try to punish the organization in retaliation for changes they don’t like. And the weird thing is … some people are willing to hurt themselves or their careers just to get back at the organization.
- WELL-INTENTIONED RESISTANCE: Some change resisters are well-intentioned people. They see their organization about to about to make a mistake, and they have the courage to try and stop it. While every organization needs these kinds of people, all too often these resisters don’t know the whole story or can’t see the big picture. So even if they have good intentions, they’re often wrong and end up shooting the organization in the foot.
PREMISE #3: YOU CAN RESPOND TO ORGANIZATIONAL RESISTANCE EFFECTIVELY.
Some organizations ride the winds of change, sail through the resistance they encounter, and seize whatever opportunities they can to move ahead of the competition. Other organizations mistakenly think their safety comes in bracing against the winds of change and the forces of resistance. But their rigidity often becomes a fatal stance. They will be shattered. Devastated. As for those that think they can lie low until the storm passes, they will be left behind.
Quite simply, the leaders and organizations that know how to respond to resistance are those that not only survive but thrive … in good times and bad. I teach them to use the following strategies.
- SHOW THE COMFORT RESISTERS “A BETTER WAY”: All too often, “comfort” people interpret change as your way of telling them what they did in the past was “bad” or “wrong.” Not at all. The way they did things in the past may have been the very best way of doing things. But the world changed. And to stay competitive, we have to change. Endocrinologist Henry R. Harrower gets right to the point, “It is always safe to assume, not that the old way is wrong, but that there may be a better way.”
On a personal level, when I talk to “comfort” resisters, I say, “Look, here’s the bottom line. When the winds of change hit your organization, resisting does more harm than good. You could get nailed for being negative, as someone who’s causing trouble, and always getting in the way of progress. That will damage your career.” I challenge them: “Instead of trying to hang on to the past, grab hold of the future.”
- LET CONTROL RESISTERS KNOW THEY STILL HAVE SOME CONTROL: Resisting change takes effort. These people need to know there may be more productive ways to spend their energy. And resisting change costs money. As writer Catherine Devyre noted, “Remember that the six most expensive words in business are: ‘We’ve always done it that way.'”
On a personal level, I let “control” resisters know they may have a lot more control than they think. They’re just not seeing it or using. For example, for the last 15 years I’ve maintained two homes and two office in Minneapolis and Naples. And during that time, I’ve traveled to more than a 1000 places and organizations to speak. Often times, my airplane seat mate will ask me if I live in Naples or if was just visiting. When I say I live there, they invariably ooh and aah, and then say how much they wished they lived in such a paradise, concluding with a long dissertation on how miserable their location happens to be, on how the weather is so bad, and how the sun never shines. And then another big sigh.
Occasionally, I verbalize my bewilderment. I say, “You know, I’ve been in hundreds of cities and towns all over America, and every one of them has those big green signs up above the highway telling folks how to get out of town.”
Just so you’re clear, I wasn’t trying to brag in any way whatsoever. I wasn’t trying to make fun of their situation. But I was hopefully … and gently … letting them know that there was probably something they could do about their situation to make it a bit better. They had a bit more control than they were exercising. It’s a point that every Control Resister has to remember.
- ILLUSTRATE THE FOLLY OF REVENGE RESISTERS: The 20th century scriptwriter Douglas Noel Adams had it right. He said, “When you blame others, you give up your power to change.” In other words, when you focus all your energy on what “they” are doing wrong, more often than not, “you” end up doing nothing. You stop working on how you could change yourself or how you could help the organization change. Your energies are eaten up by complaining words or acts of destruction that go nowhere. It’s folly.
On a personal level, I tell these “revenge” resisters, you’re probably going to lose the battle anyway. Oh, you may win a skirmish now and then, but the chances are very good you’re going to lose the war.
- RE-DIRECT THE WELL-INTENTIONED RESISTERS: Re-affirm the fact that we need them. Sometimes somebody else sees a cliff we are about to fall over that we never saw. We need their insights and instincts. However, if they’re resistance is based on nothing more than waiting for the perfect time and place to move ahead, they need to be reminded of William Feather’s insight. As a 20th century public relations executive, he noted, “Conditions are never just right. People who delay action until all factors are favorable do nothing.”
PREMISE #4: YOU MUST TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF WHEN YOU’RE GOING THROUGH CHANGE.
Any change is stressful … even good change. Whether you’ve just received a promotion, a job relocation, or a pink slip, it’s stressful. And whether you’ve just gotten married or divorced, had children, or saw your children grow up and leave the house and come back again, it’s stressful. So you must learn to be resilient so you can handle any of your present or future changes. As the dictionary defines resiliency, you need the ability to recover from or adjust easily to change and misfortune.
I’ve found that some people flourish during change while others find change to be a continual struggle. To take care of yourself, to be effective in times of change, I’ve found three things that work.
- RECOVER: After a life change, it’s not uncommon to experience your situation as stressful, challenging, or unfamiliar. And it’s not uncommon to have such symptoms as headaches, backaches, or depression. So you need to regain some sense of composure.
You need to step back from your new situation … for a while. You could do such things as take mini-breaks by going to the gym or the movies to give you some distance or change your focus … temporarily. You could plan a weekend get-away or just take some time for yourself. You could share a cup of coffee with a friend who will listen to your feelings.
Be careful of getting caught in a pity party … constantly complaining about the fact that “There is nothing I can do about this.” Well, there may be nothing you can do about the change in your organization, but there is always something you can do about what is going on inside of you. Just remember, “What you are willing to accept is what you get.”
- REFOCUS: If you are able to look at “the big picture,” you’ll gain a greater peace of mind about the change. Take time to think about what has happened, why, and what it might mean. You might realize that your feelings are mixed. For example, if you’ve been promoted, you might be pleased with the higher salary, but uncomfortable about supervising your friends. You may feel sad or angry about having to let go of familiar people and routines. With time, your feelings will even out and become more serene and positive.
Take advice from some of the sages. Remember the past but refocus some of your attention away from it. Gaston Bachelard (1884-1962) advised, “One must always maintain one’s connection to the past and yet ceaselessly pull away from it.”
Change your viewpoint. Instead of focusing on how much you hate your job, refocus on the fact you have a job. Alberta Flanders noted, “Sometimes only a change of viewpoint is needed to convert a tiresome duty into an interesting opportunity.”
And science backs up their comments. In “Monkey Business,” researchers S. Wright, M. Hager, and S. Tyink wrote, “When you change the way you see things, the things you see change.”
- REGENERATE: Because all change is stressful, your body and your spirit need time to recuperate. So get some extra rest, eat properly, and avoid alcohol and nicotine. Increase your face time or talk time with your network of good, positive, encouraging colleagues, friends, and family members. Avoid the negative folks like the plague.
But regeneration also has to deal with re-doing some of your own self-destructive behavior that gets in the way of productive change.
For example, many years ago, I first say a documentary film made by Dr. Eden Ryl, titled “You Pack Your Own Chute” At one point in the film, she interviewed people at random about their biggest problems. One woman said her biggest problem was getting to work on time. She said she was always 15 minutes late.
Dr. Ryl asked her if she’d ever thought of setting her alarm clock 15 minutes earlier. The woman said sadly, “It wouldn’t matter. I’m always late. It’s just the way I am.”
Admittedly, “personality” is formed early in childhood, and once the “grooves” are put into your personality, it’s not easy to change them. But, it’s NOT impossible either. It you have any “that’s just the way I am” statements holding you back from the very changes you need to make, STOP IT. Whenever you catch yourself thinking or verbalizing those kinds of comments, tell yourself to STOP IT. And with repetition, you will stop thinking and behaving that way.
Change is going to happen in your personal and professional lives. No doubt about it. The most successful people understand and implement the strategies outlined above.