As leaders, we make decisions every day to address opportunities and threats to our business with the intention of creating specific outcomes. As we lead organizations, the intended outcomes will be limited by our ability to get our teams to implement those decisions. We therefore need to consider which decisions to make if there is resistance and to eliminate possible resistance. If we consider the sources of resistance, we can address them to successfully execute on our decisions.
Let’s now consider that most resistance comes from two sources. Fear and anger. Fear from uncertainty and anger from certainty. The good news is that both fear and anger can be managed, which will lead to successfully implementing decisions and can result in the intended outcomes. As leaders, we are in fact measured by our ability to resolve the psychological conflict that results from fear and anger of those we lead and we must use the necessary skills for producing the changes required.
We start by understanding that by leading change, we are getting people to do things differently. To successfully influence everyone on the team, including those who are resistant to change, we should convince those individuals and not dictate or use coercion. Let me just say, based on accepted leadership theory, the commanding style that expects immediate compliance is best used in a crisis situation which also results in an overall negative climate. Let me try to show you my recipe as a slow baked, long term approach that will have a lasting impact and will create an overall positive climate. The other benefits of my recipe are that buy-in results in higher performance and successful implementations. If you are trying to put a style label on this recipe, it would be fall somewhere in the Visionary and Democratic styles.
Convincing individuals to do things differently and make necessary changes requires a two-way dialogue. As leaders, the dialogue can begin by including our team in the decision process and the change process. Given the scenario where a decision, direction or vision isn’t clear then a Democratic leadership style is warranted to create consensus through participation. Participation creates buy-in and understanding, which results in less resistance to changes needed. However, if a new vision is required, then a leader will take the initiative by articulating the direction and changes necessary. Either way, dialogue should convince those you lead that they will want to go along with you. They will go along if they see that what you want benefits them and satisfy their interests.
It’s a two-way dialogue because most of the time, interests don’t always align. Some people are afraid to change because they don’t know if their underlying interests will be satisfied. Others become angry because they know or think their underlying interests will be taken away. People are also risk adverse and fearful to protect their gains or positions, which makes them more resistant to change.
We want to recognize that the positions, in this case, are the changes we want to make. The underlying interests of the team or organization are why we want to make those changes. As leaders, we need to understand that positions often appear incompatible even when underlying interests are not. The point in having a two-way dialogue is to uncover the underlying interests of our team. We can then shift the dialog from what positions our team wants, to their underlying interests. Creative leaders can even identify new positions to do more to satisfy both sides underlining interests. Leading change then becomes an interest alignment process. Leaders should identify both sides’ interests and identify a position that satisfies more of both sides’ underlying interest. Once the individual or team recognizes that the change satisfies their interest, it will be immediately clear that no one resists what satisfies their interests. This is what is called an inclusive negotiated change process (what I like to refer to as the recipe). And when there is no reason for your team to resist changes, your team will align to the challenge, engage by adopting to change, adjust when necessary and implement the decisions made.
No one resists what satisfies their interests.
As in any good recipe, I’ve made a rough visual representation of the process because we all appreciate visuals and maps to guide us. Also, keep in mind that this is a high-level roadmap that I felt compelled to write as a result of reading so many articles that documented the difficulties of organizational change management, requiring unclear “soft skills”. There’s so much more to organization changes which include topics like managing resistance, chaos, and adoption challenges. Keep in mind, what’s important is change is smooth when all sides are motivated. All sides are motivated when interests are aligned. Alignment occurs through dialogue. And dialogue allows for successful implementation of a leader’s decisions.