Psychologist Dan Gilbert says, “Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished.” He’s right on two counts: one, that we never finish growing, and two, that we present ourselves, especially in the context of work, as if we know everything. The reason “lifelong learning” is such a buzzword in the training industry is that it acknowledges the discrepancy Gilbert is referring to – that we don’t know everything, even though we think we do, and that once we realize we don’t know everything, we can begin the self-development that would help us know more.
There’s much talk of needing to be flexible and adaptable in the changing world of work. It’s part of the drive for employees to develop more emotional and social intelligence as well as relevant future-proof skills. But, when it comes to enforced change rather than self-development of our own choosing, professionals can feel uneasy about the unknown and choose not to participate and even actively resist it.
Resistance can cause a myriad for obstacles for productivity, communication, efficiency and, ultimately, the bottom line, but it’s important to look at why change might cause different problems for different people. From there, we can develop and execute strategies to get team members off the fence and on the bus, as Jim Collins would say.
Here’s where to start:
1. Help People Engage Their Resilience, Not Resistance
One of the biggest reasons people become frustrated with organizational change is that they expect it to be a linear and direct journey. Helping people accept that there’s not always a straight line from point A to point B can help them engage their resilience in the process, even when it seems like they’re going off course.
Training managers and team leaders can help team members choose resilience in the face of change by supporting their ability to foster a growth mindset. We know from psychologist Carol Dweck that individuals with a growth mindset believe that they have the ability to learn any skill that their environment demands of them, which is especially empowering when that environment is experiencing change. When people engage their growth mindset, they have the perspective and big-picture thinking to not be deterred by the bumps in the road that inevitably arise during organizational change.
2. Help People Rationalize Instead of Run Away.
In his 1991 book, “Managing Transitions,” author William Bridges stressed the importance of transition, not the change act itself: “It isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions. Change is not the same as transition. Change is situational: the new site, the new boss, the new team roles, the new policy. Transition is the psychological process people go through to come to terms with the new situation. Change is external, transition is internal.”
When change occurs, one of the biggest barriers to acceptance is that employees feel unprepared to navigate the transitional period. Offer resources that can help them accommodate the uncertainty of the middle ground and excel in the new environment. Also, consider the timing of introducing change to give employees a chance to acclimate. Not only will you ensure the least amount of interruption to your business, but you will also enable more on-board, productive employees.
3. Help People Respond Instead of React.
Some people embrace change with spontaneity. Others dig in their heels and won’t budge unless certain demands are met, whether that means more information, more time or another allowance that could ease the growing pains. Guiding employees through change requires being able to recognize their interpersonal preferences and to adapt and connect your message to those preferences.
Team members with different interpersonal preferences might be most interested in one of the following questions above all others. It’s important to help each person find the answers they need about what they care about.
- What’s the fact-based rationale for the change?
- What will the outcome or results of the change be?
- How does this change fit into the organization’s vision/big picture?
- What impact is the change going to have on our team and on me?
Change provides the opportunity to have important conversations with ourselves and others. Throughout the process, trainers and team leads can engage their people in rewarding conversations that wouldn’t have occurred without the prompt that change affords. A lasting question I use to engage resilience-minded dialogue is, “What’s in your control to own or to change, internally or externally, that would lessen your resistance and accept what’s occurring now?” Give it a try, and see where it can take you and your teams.