Weekly Wrap: What Do You Do When People Don’t Want to Change?

Here’s a question that I think managers and HR professionals get a lot: What do I do when people don’t want to change?

It’s well worth asking, because we live in a country where many people actively resist change even as the pace of change all around us seems to move faster and faster.

That’s a dichotomy that hard to deal with, but as I just told the students in the weekly college class I teach, you better learn to deal with change or you better get  ready to have change run over the top of you.

Kevin Eikenberry, the leadership and management guru who is also co-author of the book From Bud to Boss, recently addressed this question in one of the weekly emails he sends out. He listed “7 steps to use as a framework to help you answer this challenging question,”  and he admitted that “what do I do when people don’t want to change?” is something he gets a lot —  from experienced leaders and new managers alike.

7 steps to help cope with change

So, here are Kevin’s seven steps for coping with people who don’t want to change, and I thought they were really on the mark. See if you agree.

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  1. Understand the source of the reluctance. From Kevin — “People have a reason – rational or emotional (or likely a combination of the two) – why they don’t want to make a particular change. The first mistake leaders make is assuming you know why. Even if your people have shared their reasons in the past, it is important to ask them about their concerns and reservations this time. Do this in as authentic and non-threatening way as you can. Your goal it to truly understand what they are thinking and feeling about the change. (In order to do that you must  …)”
  2. Shut up and listen. From Kevin — “Your goal isn’t to convince them or influence them at this point. Your goal is only to listen to their responses. Respond only with follow-up questions designed to truly understand where they are in regards to the change.”
  3. Determine the real level of resistance. From Kevin — “After asking and listening to them you will have a better understanding of how big a deal this is – for them, for you and for the change effort overall. Recognize that doing this may, in itself, be tremendously valuable. Also, the chance to describe thoughts and feelings often helps the resisters understand their feelings better themselves.”
  4. Acknowledge how they feel. From Kevin — “People appreciate being heard in a nonjudgmental way – it happens so rarely. People need to be acknowledged for their opinion. Notice I didn’t say “agree with them.” Sometimes you can move past their concerns by “agreeing to disagree.” And sometimes, once they have been heard they are often ready to move on with the change, even if it isn’t what they would have done had they had the choice.”
  5. Get others to help influence. From Kevin — “If the resister still needs help being influenced to change, you may not be the right or best person. Whatever the reason, encourage them to talk to their peers or others who are on board who might be able to relate the benefits of the change more successfully than you.”
  6. Determine your next steps. From Kevin –“This is contextual to the change itself. Perhaps the reluctance isn’t a show stopper. Perhaps they are whining about the change but doing the new procedure. Or perhaps they are a major road block. Whatever the situation, recognize that while we need to be patient with people (not everyone will come on board with any change at the same time); at some point their resistance or reluctance is a performance issue. When the situation is a performance issue, use your coaching skills as appropriate and necessary.”
  7. Let it go. From Kevin — “If the issue is small or is more of an irritant to you than a roadblock to the change, let it go. If the performance-issue coaching doesn’t work and the person is still resistant, take the necessary disciplinary actions. The reality in many situations not everyone will like or want to work under the changed scenario. If you have a large enough group, there will always be someone whose mind won’t change. At that point you must be willing to let them go, and not blame yourself.”

I see a lot of crap that masquerades as workforce advice, and as loyal readers of TLNT’s Weekly Wrap probably know, I don’t share very much of it here because a great deal of what gets passed along is either silly, short-sighted, or dumb.

That’s why this advice from Kevin Eikenberry on how to help people cope with change is so good, because it is specific, pragmatic, and actionable. You could do a whole lot worse than to take Kevin’s advice on managing change to heart. And if you want to plug in to more great advice from him, go to his website to sign up for his weekly newsletter and other sharp leadership and management advice.

Why won’t Millennials pick up the phone?

Of course, there’s more than dealing with people who don’t want to change. Here are some HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • How do you manage someone you don’t like? A recent HBR blog post posed this intriguing question, and it’s a good one because just about anyone who has managed much at all has probably encountered it. The post says, in part, “Your job would be a whole lot easier if you liked everyone on your team. But that’s not necessarily what’s best for you, the group, or the company. “People liking each other is not a necessary component to organizational success,” says Ben Dattner, an organizational psychologist and author of The Blame Game. Robert Sutton, a professor … at Stanford University and the author of Good Boss, Bad Boss … agrees. According to Sutton, “there’s a list of things that make you like people and there’s a list of things that make a group effective, and there are very different things on those lists.” It’s neither possible — nor even ideal — to build a team comprised entirely of people you’d invite to a backyard barbecue. But there are real pitfalls to disliking an employee.”
  • Keeping top talent from leaving. It’s one of management’s big challenges — how do we keep our best people from leaving? Well, the Seattle Times recently looked at the challenge businesses in the Emerald City face in keeping good people on board when the local unemployment rate is under 5 percent. “The Seattle area’s jobless rate has fallen to 4.8 percent from 7.2 percent a year ago. If workers during the recession had little choice but to hunker down in their jobs, the tighter labor market now signals more options. … “I can’t tell you how many employers are calling me and saying, ‘We haven’t done anything with pay for at least three to five years. I need to make sure we’re still competitive,’ ” said Nancy Kasmar, manager of compensation and benefits consulting at Washington Employers, a human-resources organization with more than 1,000 member businesses. “They have to start working on the employee value proposition.”
  • Why won’t younger workers pick up the phone? Millennials get a bad rap for lots of things — unfairly, I think — but here’s an interesting one The Wall Street Journal recently uncovered. Millennials don’t want to work the phones, even if it is a key component in their job. “While Millennials — usually defined as people born between 1980 and the early 2000s — are rarely far from their smartphones, they grew up with a wider array of communication tools, such as texting and online chatting, and have different expectations for how and when they’d like to be reached. In the workplace, some managers say avoiding the phone in favor of email can hurt business, hinder creativity and delay projects.”
  • Businesses struggle with Affordable Care Act. Now that health care reform is stating to kick in (state exchanges open Oct. 1) USA Today published this story from the Nashville Tennesseean that takes a look at how many employers are taking a good look at how Obamacare will impact them and their business. It says, in part, “While the Affordable Care Act will provide access to insurance for millions more Americans, it is not a law of equality for employers. The impact differs according to how an employer’s workforce is structured and the generosity of its health benefits. The law encourages employers to provide coverage through penalties and incentives, but employers say they don’t understand the rules — many of which are still being written.”

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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1 Comment on “Weekly Wrap: What Do You Do When People Don’t Want to Change?

  1. Thanks for sharing these actionable tips! Change is rarely easy, and working with employees to make the process more comfortable pays off big. Also, on the HBR post, I think discussions on employee engagement and managing often leave out the employee relationships that are more tense. But hiring people that you like may be turning away some great candidates, and you may later find out you don’t actually get along. Focusing on performance and qualifications over likability is critical.

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