Flowing with the Current of Change

I am shamelessly ripping off this metaphor from Don Gray which he used at AYE during one of his sessions.  A common question I hear as a change agent from people is “how can we manage resistors?”  The short answer is, you don’t “manage them“.  Resistance can often be a surface level response and completely natural for people entering transition of new change,whether that change be something invoked internally or externally.

As a change agent it’s important to recognize, while your purpose is to help bring change, people affected by that change are going to be progressing through it at different rates and intensities.  More plainly stated, some people may appear resistant out of fear.  “Does this change mean I’m going to lose my job?  Why are you telling me I need to change?  What’s wrong with me?”  Some people may welcome change because they naturally get bored with the status quo.  Some people will be impatient with results from the change.  “Hey, it’s been a month, why isn’t anything different yet?”

There are plenty of models to help with change from ADKAR to Satir to the Kotter Model and each have their own strength and weaknesses as well as approach.  I have more experience with Satir simply because I’ve been exposed to it the most from AYE and PSL.

Change artists need to find a balance between knowing when to push a change, encourage change or even when to avoid or delay a change.  People, teams and departments are all going to react differently to the introduction of new processes and methods.   One team I’m working with now are a close group who talk frequently during the day so they have stand-ups every-other day.  Other teams are having stand-ups every day.  One department is having a hard time getting everyone at their stand-ups for a variety of reasons so they haven’t figured out a cadence that makes sense for them.

During this phase we are helping teams make their work visible and helping facilitate their stand-ups until they get the hang of it.  We’re not forcing the team who is struggling to stick to these rules because the behaviours and outcomes we’re seeing (while some would say it’s resistance) is showing us there are other problems that are preventing them from being able to do this right now.  Everyone is busy.  Everyone is working on multiple projects.  Some have standing meetings elsewhere.

The point is we’re working to accommodate them not forcing them to stick to our “transformation plan”.   As a change artist, there’s a time to push, a time to encourage and a time to lay-off.  The tricky part is figuring out which to do, and when.  I don’t expect to master this skill, I expect to use what I know, and my gut, to help me make the right decision at the right time.   Pushing at the wrong time can lead to people thrashing in chaos which can do more harm than good so the next time you’re seeing ‘resistance‘, take a step back and find out why.  It could be actual resistance and, from my experience, it could simply be bad timing for the change you’re trying to implement at the time.