416 — Managing “Resistance” to Change

Resistance is a symptom of something else. Unless you get to the cause you will spend endless time trying to manage the “resistance” symptom.

Change is Natural

Change is natural in this world. Evolution itself is a response to change. We naturally respond to a changed situation — if it is cold you put on a sweater, if you are short of cash you don’t eat at a fancy restaurant. Sometimes managers, stockholders, suppliers, or customers look at a company or at a person and think, “They are so stuck in their ways, so rigid.” Sometimes managers think, “Why don’t employees show more enthusiasm for the changes?”

But none of us experience ourselves as rigid, as resisting change. We always experience ourselves as responding appropriately to our situation. Others may not understand just what our experience is, but we do. We are each intimately connected to our world in our own unique way. If people or organizations do not respond to change you can assume they do not experience the need to change, i.e. their environment has not changed — from their point of view — from their experience.

Resistance is a Straw Man

The idea that people resist change is a straw man, a red-herring. Resisting change is not an issue, because nobody resists. Talking about people, departments, or companies as if they resist change is a way to avoid understanding the true situation — that the person or group is not properly connected to the (changing) company environment, so does not experience the need to change.

Example

For over two years the management of a 300 employee chemical plant had been trying to get operators to pay more attention to costs, maintenance, overtime, wasteful processes, etc. But employees seemed to not care. Early in Meridian Group’s work with this company we had pointed out to the managers that while they prepared detailed statements of costs, profit margins, etc. that these were shared only within management ranks, not with operators. Managers said that sharing this with (union) employees was “Just not done.”

A new operations manager was brought in from outside and we mentioned the obvious contradiction to him. He immediately asked the accounting department to begin sharing numbers with the operators on a weekly basis at the regular morning meetings. The operators were thrilled to have this financial area of the company opened to them. The day when the numbers were discussed was the most well attended of the morning meetings.

Soon supervisors and managers reported that operators were becoming more conscious of costs, sometimes going overboard. E.g. one now-cost-sensitive supervisor canceled installing a concrete slab in a highly trafficked area under an elevated production unit because he felt it was too much money. As he explained, “I wouldn’t do that at home.” It took the Plant Manager to convince him that in the plant’s budget this was a tiny item and the benefit was worth it.

This plant now reported constantly dropping monthly costs as employees felt a new level of understanding, responsibility and control. Engaging employees around cost control was just one piece of a broad culture change effort that eventually made this plant a model for the other plants in the company.

cc 416 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

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Posted in: Topics and Issues — People

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