Q: What do you do when executives support a change initiative but individuals (and even some midlevel managers) resist? How can I get people to adopt the new approach? —Lee, 36, strategic launch director
A: It’s the proverbial carrot and stick combo.
First, be very clear on what your mandate is from above. This includes understanding how your initiative fits within your company’s overall strategy.
On the flip side, what are the implications if your initiative fails? Setting aside risk to your career, does this failure imperil the company?
The more important this initiative is, the better. But if people don’t grasp the connection, they won’t buy into your message.
It’s worth spending time to develop clear and simple explanations so that people have “aha moments” about the importance of change to your company.
It’s not sufficient to explain at an intellectual level. The heart will rule the head, so you must connect to their emotional side and sense of well-being. At that moment, they will be able to truly invest in the new direction.
This goes for explaining benefits, too. Find a way to describe the benefits that will address the needs of the person or people you are speaking with. Otherwise, the words will have little power to persuade.
It’s also vital to understand the resistance. Yes, change is hard, but if you ask — and truly listen — to concerns, you will be able to alleviate at least some of the issues people raise.
For example, they may be worried that it will take them longer to do their work while they learn the new approach (often a concern in software implementations).
In this case, work with the management teams to provide some short-term flexibility on productivity standards.
If people need to learn new skills, be sure to provide sufficient training and support. Timing is important; too many training programs are held in advance, and by the time people use the skills, they have forgotten what they learned.
Don’t count on one-shot training, either. Repetition is important for retention, and if you can provide coaching and mentoring, people will learn how to use the new program in their job in practice, not just in theory.
Now, what about the management resistance? You can confront this head-on by tying performance incentive programs to cooperation with your program. If their bonus depends on your initiative’s success, you can bet they will be on board. This isn’t a longshot if your program truly is a top business priority.
You can also use peer pressure. This will work across all levels without pointing fingers or being accusatory. All you really need to do is find a way to publicly acknowledge those who are leading the way on adoption.
Those who are visibly lagging will not like seeing their names displayed on that part of the list, and likely will change their ways.
Watch out for active saboteurs, and be sure you have the authority to call them on it. Anyway, even if you don’t, they may not know it. If they are bullies or are resisting for resistance’s sake, you are best served by being strong.
Be resolute, be compassionate and be creative. Persistence will help you get this change accomplished.