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Resisting Change: 5 People Who Kill Projects (Part 1)

Change is hard.   The most powerful force in many organizations is the status quo.  Moving the status quo even just a little can feel a lot like trying to push a fire truck up a hill in San Francisco.  This is the first in a series of articles that can help you identify and work through difficulties of managing change in your organization.

An Orange in Your Apple Barrel

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Every organization has at least one person who seems so resistant to change that you will never find an inch of common ground.  This is the person that refuses to get with the program and move the ball forward no matter what.  The resistance level is so high that it may even seem like he spends more energy fighting the change than would be needed to just get on board.  What do you do with this person?  How do you keep them from derailing the entire project?

One of my mentors once had a “get on board” conversation with a sales person during a large SAP implementation many years ago.  The sales person just kept fighting the idea that orders and delivery dates were going to become more structured and definitive.

The conversation went on for over an hour. Then, my mentor finally said, “This is a barrel for apples, right now you are choosing to be an orange.  You need to decide if you are going to be an orange or an apple”.   Within a year, the sales person left the company.   He just could not make the leap.  What interested me about this story was that I never heard it from my mentor, I heard it from the sales person.  Upset at the ultimatum, he used the apple/orange analogy as a means of ridicule.  However, it always stuck with me as a very eloquent way to drive home a point:  “This is where we are going.  If you are not going with us, you probably shouldn’t be here.”

Common Change Resistance Archetypes

Resistance to change comes in many flavors.  Below is a list of common behaviors and traits that many who resist will display in their plight to preserve the status quo.

The Detractor

A favorite phrase of the Detractor is, “that won’t work here, we tried it once before”.  If you hear this phrase, the loose translation is “I like the way we have always done it”.  What I often find is that the current process that needs to be changed was either created or heavily influenced by the Detractor at some point.  When you say, “We need to change this.”, the Detractor hears, “What you created is terrible and it doesn’t work.  Oh by the way, you are an idiot.”

Getting the Detractor on board is challenging.  Typically, he doesn’t come around until success starts closing in on him from all sides.  To be honest, I cannot remember an instance where I was able to get the Detractor bought in before project deployment.   This is unfortunate, because the Detractor often possesses an immense amount of historical knowledge.

Typically, when faced with the Detractor, a workable strategy lies in building a series of small victories immediately around the Detractor.  It helps to know who the Detractor respects and talks to on a regular basis.  If you can find success in areas managed by a friend of the Detractor, it can significantly help your plight.  Additionally, there is also a viable strategy in looking for specific things that the Detractor does on a recurring basis that he hates.  If you can find a way to automate that task, the Detractor may come into meetings with an open mind.

Beware that while these strategies can work, they can also backfire with the Detractor.  His mantra can change from “this won’t work” to “you are just trying to run me out of a job”.   The key to developing a strategy for the Detractor is to be thoughtful.  Listen, and carefully plan out the details to get from start to finish.

The Shield 

The superpower that the Shield possesses is deflection.  The Shield is the master of the one percent use case.  He can dance and shuffle like Fred Astaire.  You know that the Shield is in the room when your one hour meeting spirals off track into a three hour meeting that doesn’t accomplish anything.  The Shield is a cousin to the Detractor, but the behavior is much more subtle and covert.  When you say, “This is what needs to change”, the Shield hears “Your years of experience  managing the little things are irrelevant”.   The Shield may also be thinking, “They think this stuff is so simple and can just turn on a dime.”

Staying on message and uncovering the real facts is critical when dealing with the Shield.  Do not go into the first meeting with the Shield expecting to come out with an agreement.  The first meeting or two should be about discovery.  Keep the meeting on track, but the agenda should flush out the Shield’s objections and issues.  During these discovery meetings, do not forget to ask, “How often does this happen?” or “What percentage of the time is this an issue?”  The key to success with the Shield is context.

After completing discovery meetings, design the solution with the Shield’s objections in mind.  Tailor the message delivery to those objections.  The Shield is typically consistent with his objections, so your presentation can proactively answer those issues before they become questions.  This is the “head them off at the pass” approach.

Next Time…

The next installment will explore 2 more resistors: the Pacifist and the Holdback.

Read Part 2 Here

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