The following is an excerpt from Strativity Group CEO and cofounder Lior Arussy’s new book, “Next Is Now: 5 Steps for Embracing Change—Building a Business that Thrives into the Future.” Check out Chief Executive’s exclusive interview with Arussy here.
Is it any wonder that so many of us are scared of change?
Before we completed our research into this phenomenon, I often wondered how rational and intelligent people could make such sloppy and irrational arguments against obvious improvements.
Today, I have a much better idea why people resist the inevitable. If you’re unsure why those around you are having such a difficult time embracing a new change, read on. This methodology is a step-by-step plan for involving everyone in the process of change: after all, change shouldn’t be an excuse to leave people behind.
Just as managers expect employees to stay current with the demands of their industries, managers have a responsibility to involve their employees in the evolution of their companies. And if you’re worried that shifts in the economy or your industry are putting your job in danger, take heart. Notice that I said that change renders certain “roles” obsolete. But what it can’t destroy is the need to provide high-quality services to people in need.
The Personalities of Change Rejection
Like opera, change rejection is an art, one that has been perfected by the human spirit. Just when you think you’ve covered all the arguments, someone will miraculously discover a new aria to lengthen the final act another few bars. It’s astonishing—and infuriating too, if you’re the one trying to make change happen.
While the excuses themselves will vary by company and industry, I have identified six common change rejection “personalities.”
When encountering resistance—whether your own or someone else’s—it’s incredibly helpful to identify which one you’re dealing with, because each personality responds better to different approaches.
You’re probably unaware of the many small ways you put up resistance. Diagnosing your change rejection personality can open a window onto your unconscious behaviors and offer a path toward solutions.
- The Staller
Nothing in this meeting should be coming as a surprise to anyone. All the relevant stakeholders have reviewed the latest customer study. Everyone knows the severity of the customer issues and the consequences of not taking action immediately. We have gathered this morning solely to sign off on the new strategy. Yet, as we cover the core findings one last time and begin to review everyone’s next actions, Chris, a marketing director, speaks up.
“The numbers are conclusive,” he declares cheerfully. “They leave no doubt about what needs to happen next.”
Then, the punch line.
“Just to make sure, though, would you mind running the numbers one more time in a slightly different way?”
Every team has a marketing director named Chris who decides at the last minute that he wants to compare the data from single women over the age of fifty in southern Florida with what we have from young families in Seattle. Chris is one of the seven types of change rejecters: the staller. Chris will never object to the data per se. You can’t argue with the facts, right? Instead, he will innocently dig his heels in using tactics like this and make you drag him the rest of the way.
Back to the meeting. Here’s how I worked with Chris’s resistance—and how you can handle your own staller.
Shutting Down the Staller: What’s the Cost of the Delay?
In the interests of consensus, the project champion looks ready to agree to Chris’s request for additional analysis. Time for me to step in.
“What are you trying to establish that isn’t in the report already?” I ask. “And how would you measure the cost of delaying the original plan against the added value of any new information you might find?”
Silence in the room. Chris was counting on his colleagues to let him get away with stalling once again. He certainly wasn’t expecting a challenge.
“We have frustrated customers,” I add, in the hope of restoring the sense of urgency in the room. “Every day we leave them that way is another day they can shop around with our competitors.”
Chris’s forced cheerfulness evaporates.
“Okay,” he responds, defeated. “Let’s do it.”
The staller’s fear is simple: the proposed change might uncover that he didn’t do his job as well as he could have or neglected something critical. Stalling the change effort is his last desperate bid to protect his reputation. This was why Chris was so resistant. He’d made some mistakes in the past—and the proposed change was going to bring them to light.
The best way to handle a silent delayer is to dig deep into these additional requests by asking questions like:
✦ Why do we need more information?
✦ How will what we might learn affect the proposed change?
✦ Will the additional value offset the cost of the delay?
Don’t play nice with the staller. Instead, emphasize the very real damage that delays will have on your overall strategy. If you know you have a staller in your midst, approach him in advance to address these issues in a way that minimizes the damage to him and to the change effort. Even better, find new opportunities for the staller to own the new change instead of fearing it.
On encountering one staller, my team discovered that he was afraid of the additional work that the new program would add to his plate. He was comfortable in his marketing role—his department activated many fun sponsorships that afforded him trips to glitzy events. The new program and additional responsibility meant fewer fun events and more customer interactions, something he wasn’t looking forward to. We presented a compromise: a new reduced role that would allow him to stay involved with sponsorships while a new director of marketing was appointed.
- The Engineer
“These customers are stupid,” he repeated angrily. “They just don’t bother to read the manual.”
He was one of my R&D managers at Hewlett-Packard. An engineer through and through, he was in love with his products.
Generally speaking, engineers don’t like change—unless it’s on their terms. They also tend to suffer from acute NIHS: Not Invented Here Syndrome. For someone with NIHS, the only thing better than a good idea is his idea.
“We show your products to everyone,” I replied. “Apparently, only the stupid ones actually buy them. So until I get different products, we’re stuck serving stupid customers.”
The engineer—who doesn’t, of course, have to be an actual engineer—is very open to change, as long as it’s her change. Unfortunately, there is no room for this kind of monomaniacal thinking in today’s world—not even if you’re the CEO. Good ideas come from everywhere—and sometimes someone else has a more appropriate solution than we do. To adapt, people need to be ready to embrace the optimal approach regardless of its provenance.
The engineer shuns risk. She is most comfortable with the clear, the proven, and the predictable. But change is often none of those things.
Changing the Engineer’s Mind: Make the Case
If you’re an engineer or you’re trying to convince one of the need for change, it’s time to do some research. Prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the old way is no longer valid. Engineers are more likely to accept that innovation is necessary if your case is made with copious rigor and detail. Give them (or yourself) all the facts they can stand in order to activate their change resilience.
It’s also helpful to develop a set of milestones for change. This systematic approach reassures the engineer that data will continue to be collected, analyzed, and incorporated along the way.
- The Busy Bee
“Are you kidding me? I don’t have time for change! I’m needed in five different places right this very minute. In fact, I’ve received more than fifty critical e-mails since we started talking.”
The busy bee is the manager with too much on his plate. Sometimes it seems as if his chief responsibility is to convince everyone else of his importance to the organization. The company’s very survival depends on him—or at least, he’d like people to think so. The busy bee’s typical response to a change effort is contempt: “I can’t be bothered worrying about the future when I’m playing such an instrumental role in closing the quarter!”
The busy bee is afraid of losing his prominence in the organization. He puts out fires; saving the day constantly garners him respect. This change on the horizon may cause the busy bee to lose his privileged spot by extinguishing those fires for good.
How will he prove his worth then?
The busy bee uses today’s problems as an excuse not to deal with tomorrow’s crisis. Often he runs a chaotic department in operations or customer service, one lacking any real structure. This chaos feeds the busy-ness that makes him feel needed and important.
Bringing the Busy Bee on Board: Make Her Life Easier
The busy-ness, though manufactured, is still real. If the presence of an obviously distracted and overwhelmed busy bee is derailing your change effort, assess how much you really need to include her in the process.
If you can get started elsewhere and get back to her once you’ve built up momentum, do so. Otherwise, use the change as a vehicle to improve her operation and create more structure and effectiveness there. If you can show the busy bee that change is not something being layered on top of what she does but rather a smoother alternative, you may have a shot.
If you’re the bee, ask yourself: Do I really need to put up so much resistance? Can I take some time during one of my quieter moments to better understand the change? You may find it can make life easier once you get past the initial learning curve.
Make no mistake, however: busy bees need systems that give them as many opportunities as possible to solve problems, earn respect, and feel important. They thrive on adrenaline, but successful, positive change can deliver similar thrills if they’re open to it.
- The Salesperson
“But I made my numbers the old way!”
This is the cry of the salesperson, another classic change rejecter. Often this person literally works in sales—but not always.
The salesperson is anyone who regularly declares victory for making monthly, quarterly, and annual quotas. She will actively resist anything that might put her predictable revenue streams and juicy commissions in jeopardy.
For the salesperson, change is first and foremost a threat to the revenue stream. As she sees it, change means greater risk and longer sales cycles. She will do her best to keep change far away from her territory and minimize any disruption to her hard-earned track record. Any proposed change will threaten the company’s revenues, its stock price, its very existence.
The salesperson follows a peculiar logic all her own. “I’m happy to change,” she might say. “We just need to renegotiate my quota for the year. I have no intention of losing my target commission and my place in the President’s Club trip. So as long as you can guarantee that all the risks involved in this change are off my plate, I’m in.”
This attitude deals the death blow to your change program.
There are no guarantees in any change, and the salesperson knows it. By shifting responsibility to everyone else, she is protecting herself at the cost of the company’s future.
The fear here is simple: loss of money and status. Salespeople have a formula for success. They follow it, make their numbers, and reap the rewards. Messing with their formula endangers their standing. Because of their direct impact on overall revenue, salespeople often have the clout to fight change to a standstill. In fact, many organizations try to sidestep sales entirely when it comes to change. They will ask me to approach sales last during the change process. While this is sometimes an option, more often it is not.
Celebrating the Salesperson: Create a New Formula for Success
The way to handle the salesperson is through the CEO. You’ll need the CEO’s unconditional buy-in and support to effectively tell the sales department—or anyone charged with hitting some sort of quota—to stop playing the oldest game in the book. The CEO must establish the change effort as the top priority and refuse to accept any ultimatums. Yes, there are ways to minimize the risks to immediate revenues due to new programs; but at the same time salespeople should refrain from inflating the risks they do face just to stop the change at any cost.
Don’t let the salesperson get away with using outlier examples to make general objections to the plan. Focus on addressing what will work in most instances and worry about exceptions later.
If you’re the salesperson, then you know well what motivates you. It may help to create a new formula to define success and talk to your colleagues about it. You’ve been trained to be reward-driven, so celebrate successes early and often. Between progress-based rewards and new opportunities for elevated status, you can overcome your natural resistance to change.
- The Silo Builder
Change requires sharing. Change requires collaboration. Change requires a willingness to be measured together, not individually. You can’t hide behind your personal or team performance at everyone else’s expense. To a silo builder, change is a threat to his carefully cultivated turf.
The silo builder wants to be judged on his own merits and has no intention of standing with the team. He will maintain the walls of separation within the organization and oppose any changes to them. He will rationalize his stance by talking about accountability: “By increasing collaboration and breaking down silos, how will you hold people accountable? Change will only breed chaos.”
What the silo builder really fears is increased responsibility. If you’ve been managing a small, well-controlled process, it’s scary to consider becoming responsible for a broader program where you can’t control every aspect yourself. Collaboration means depending on others who might fail.
Soothe the Silo Builder’s Fears: Emphasize Organizational Accountability
While assuring the silo builder that accountability is a good thing, emphasize that no man is an island. Each person is ultimately responsible for executing the company’s strategy and delivering superior value to customers. Like it or not, everyone is in this together. It doesn’t matter if one person meets his numbers if he does so at the expense of everyone else in the organization. Allowing individual accountability to trump the organization’s larger strategy impairs everyone’s efforts.
Assure silo builders that the proposed change will drive organizational accountability. Point out the differences between micro and macro accountability, and tally the costs of following a short-sighted, micro-only approach.
If you’re the silo builder, it’s your job to strengthen your relationships with others. Think about times when someone from another department really came through for you. Remember a moment when a team member helped you do a more effective job.
Deep down, you know that you can’t do the work alone. The good news is: you don’t have to.
Emotions Drive Change
Underneath all the so-called rational arguments against change you will find emotional motives. Ignoring the emotional impact change has on people will only result in increasingly creative methods of sabotage. Only when we understand the different forms resistance takes can we develop the change resilience we need to take our organizations into the future.
Which brings us to the sixth change rejecter, someone who is perhaps the least invested in making the changes necessary for evolution:
- The Veteran
The veteran is two or three years away from retirement. She’s not looking to make any waves, and change is not a part of her retirement plan. She plans to keep things just the way they are, thank you very much.
There are some ways to appeal to the veteran. You may focus on the legacy she will leave behind. For those who are very proud of their work and intrinsically motivated, this approach may work. In other cases, you may want to break the required operational changes into small, bite-size activities that may seem less daunting.
A combination of intrinsic motivation and bite-size changes may be appropriate for some veterans.
But in some instances, the best way to ensure a change initiative’s success is to begin it the day after the veteran’s retirement party. Considering that every day you postpone change is a day you lose more money, you may even consider expediting that party. Despite all the organization’s appreciation for past performance, it cannot afford to allow one person’s love of the past to hold everyone else’s future hostage. In some cases, change resilience is about letting go of those who refuse to take the next step in the journey.
That can be scary—but as we’ve seen in this chapter, change is all about courage in the face of fear.
If you’re a veteran reading this book, then I believe you care about your work and your legacy. You may need to swallow your pride and ask for assistance embracing the Next, but the payoff is worth it.