Let me set the stage. You are a team leader or perhaps a member of the team. Have you ever had this experience? You “bust your a..” improving a process to save time, help customers or clients, or even co-workers in a different department or part of the organization. But you find that the people who need to use it don’t engage or care. This is a perennial frustration for team leaders, managers, supervisors and team members. Lack of engagement or caring will throw “cold water” and the “kill switch” on any change.
There is light at the end of the tunnel, but you must see it coming early enough to have a chance to manage or salvage the situation. There are many early warning indicators, of which you must be aware.
Here are three phrases that can bring any change initiative to a grinding halt:
“We’ve always done it this way. Why change now?”
This may be a code phrase for “I’m not using your new idea or process, because I already know the old process and don’t feel like changing.” Of course you know that, even a trickle of water over a long enough time will smooth a rock or gouge out the Grand Canyon. This is not a position you would normally elect for yourself. I believe that we can admit that there are certain things that are similar to using “muscle memory” a neuro-chemical attachment to the old way of doing things.
Solution: If you hear this phrase or a similar one, check out how long your target audience has worked with this old process or system. Acknowledge that climbing out of that canyon will be easier for some than others. Your solution is to erect an escalator so it will be easier to help the team or team member climb out of the canyon and make the change or changes. You may have to make that warm and cozy canyon somewhat uncomfortable. If they become uncomfortable enough, they may head for your escalator. Busy people tend to follow the path of least resistance. Your strategy is to make the old process hard to follow and the new process easy. One way to do this is to invoke the “pride of ownership.” In other words let your team or team member be a part of designing the new process or system and they will be more likely to embrace it! Simply communicating the benefits of a new process or system isn’t enough to get everyone out of the canyon and on board.
“I don’t have time because I’m too busy.”
After the Recession of 2008, it seems that every team member or worker is doing the jobs of 2-3 people from years past and consider themselves lucky to have a job. We could probably empathize with their dilemma. “I don’t have time because I’m too busy” may well be code for “I don’t want to…” which is the most frequently used “bluff” used by many people to get out of something. If someone doesn’t follow the new process it’s either due to their inability to follow the process or their unwillingness to follow the process. Be aware that sometimes, willingness issues frequently disguise themselves as ability issues. But, a lack of time tops the list.
Solution: Prior to communicating with your team members and asking them to change, you should communicate and explain the rationale for the proposed change to your manager and other key stake holders. Most people tend to do what management asks them to do. Therefore, it is helpful and effective to begin the commitment to the new process at the top of the management pyramid, and allow that commitment trickle down. This may even be a delicate way to call “bluffs” using this approach. In some instances, there may be legitimate time issues that must be addressed.
Watch out because this could be a code phrase for, “Please go away, because I don’t want to hear about any changes.” If you have been a team leader for any amount of time, you know that what follows is a laundry list of objections to proposed changes. The intent of this statement or observation is to demoralize you with a number of random objections in the hope that you will give up on your recommendation and leave them alone.
Solution: Respectfully, listen to their objections because they are actually helping you by providing some insight into their thought process. Consider a session to explain the forthcoming changes and provide an opportunity for questions. You have the opportunity to take a “devil’s advocate” point of view of your change. If you have anticipated the objections in advance, you’ll have a more well-thought-out reply. Listen carefully to the comments because emotional concerns may be stated as logical objections. Your team may rely on emotion and justify that based on logic.
Prepare in advance to address anticipated objections. Appealing to the underlying emotional aspects of having to learn something new or possibly complicated in addition to the surface logical aspects of the change.
My closing thought is to talk to people in advance of the change, and listen for these and other code words or phrases that will alert you to risks, commitment and rewards.
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