In my classes, I am occasionally asked what to do about change-resistant groups or organizations. The question usually seems defeatist, even though they are asking me for the secret sauce that will fix the situation.
When asked for more detail about these groups or organizations, there are common themes that come up:
The first theme is large populations of long-time workers and employees near retirement. It is feared that people with long tenure with the company are stuck in their ways. People near retirement are waiting it out until they can retire. (Let’s admit this is probably ageist).
The second theme is organizations like government and university organizations, where jobs are more secure, and the potential threat of being fired for not adopting change is not as great. (Although I’m told that perceived threat is uniquely American.)
The common beliefs about these two groups are that the people don’t want to change, and they also don’t have to. And so you are stuck wondering how to drive change.
So, what’s the secret to getting these change-resistant groups to change?
Drop your assumption that they are change-resistant. Here are four reasons why this assumption is hurting your efforts:
- First of all, if you assume a group or organization is change-resistant, that’s all you’ll see. Our confirmation bias means our brains are constantly on the lookout for confirmation that what we already believe is true. So you’ll see evidence that they are change resistant and ignore evidence that they are not.
- Because you believe they are change-resistant, you will hold yourself back from doing things that might bring about change, because you think they won’t work.
- Your assumption will taint all your conversations. You’ll be apologetic about it. Or you’ll be frustrated. Your lack of confidence will translate to hesitance about the change.
- And, you’re probably wrong. People, even in these groups, choose change every day. We just have to create the right conditions for it, which is the essence of change management.
So, stop telling yourself the story that certain groups are resistant to change. Instead of asking what it is about a group that makes them change-averse, ask what it is about the change that might make that group averse to it. Then, design accordingly.