It can feel at times that others are foisting change on us uninvited. However, in our finger pointing, we do not always admit that there are times when we should actively be choosing change; we do not see that sometimes our actions get in the way of helpful change.
One of the great benefits of life as a consultant is that I have the privilege of working with a variety of clients across a range of industries. As a result, I am able to compare experiences and learning from each industry to see how unique or generally applicable they are. The more I do this work, the more I realize that humans in every industry behave in similar ways.
This realization was brought home to me again earlier this month while working with groups of senior executives from completely different industries. Both groups found themselves in very difficult situations at work. And, while new management kept saying that things would be different under their guidance, the executives found it hard to believe.
To be honest, they had reason to be skeptical. These executives had grown up in their organizations and seen several management teams come and go. The executives felt they were the only guardians of institutional memory and could cite chapter and verse regarding what had been tried before and what had failed. For them, there was nothing new under the sun.
For the new management team, this was incredibly frustrating. They believed they had promising plans for their organization but faced a brick wall of recalcitrance whenever they broached the possibility of change.
My question to the executives was simple: What will you do differently this time to ensure success? This began an interesting conversation about learned behaviors and reflexive actions that, in the aggregate, made it remarkably difficult to bring about change. It was almost as if through these learned behaviors and reflexive actions the executives were trying to preserve the status quo — no matter how dysfunctional.
For example, when management proposed an idea, the executives might say, “We tried that before. It failed.” That’s just another way of saying “No change now, thank you.” Or, the executives might say, “That won’t work because the system is too complex.” That’s just another way of saying “Unless you can change everything to my liking, I won’t help you change anything.”
As you can see, these responses helped the executives feel as if they were being honest and responsible while they were mainly digging in their heels.
So what’s the better approach?
- Ask yourself: is there some good in this proposal that would benefit our mission?
- Ask yourself: is my learned behavior or reflexive action likely to help or hinder this change proposal?
- Ask yourself: is there something I could do differently to improve the likelihood of success?
- Do that better thing.
- Share your thinking with your trusted colleagues.
- Rinse. Repeat.
When you face change, pause for a moment to consider as objectively as possible if there is some good in that proposal. Then decide what you will do differently to enable success for that proposed change. In this way, you will be choosing positive change over blind opposition in defense of a dysfunctional status quo.
[Photo Credit: Geralt]