How can I get an employee I supervise who is resistant to change to become more flexible in the workplace? I have included him in discussions about workplace change and have asked him for ideas on how we can improve workflows to support our mission and goals, but he offers no ideas or suggestions. As a manager, there are times I need to implement change. When I present these changes to him, he always says they won’t work. This is very frustrating as a manager. What can I do?
Stuck with Someone Stuck in His Ways
That sounds frustrating. Your predicament reminds me of something humorist David Sedaris said: “I haven’t got the slightest idea how to change people, but I keep a long list of prospective candidates just in case I should ever figure it out.” It sounds like this team member is at the top of YOUR list.
This is what makes leadership so tough, in my view. You could be the smartest strategist in the world, but if you don’t know how to influence people, it almost doesn’t matter. Or like my friend Joseph Grenny likes to say, “There is no strategy so brilliant that people can’t render it worthless.” Influencing people is more than half the job of leadership. But that’s what makes leadership so important. So, let me lend a little insight to your incredibly important job: influencing humans.
Have the right conversation. You need to talk to this person, but not about what you think. Don’t get sucked into a discussion about the most recent change you want him to implement. Instead have the larger conversation, which is about the pattern: “I’ve noticed a pattern that when I bring up a new idea or change, you either don’t say anything when invited to or you say it won’t work. But you don’t offer alternative suggestions. Can you help me understand how you see it?”
Diagnose before you prescribe. Don’t just assume you know why this person is so resistant. Ask yourself, “Why would a reasonable, rational person act the way they are acting?” Then, when you talk with them, ask questions that uncover the real reasons for their attitude and behavior. Is it a motivation issue (they aren’t interested, they don’t like the change, they feel incentivized to do something else) or an ability issue (they lack skills, social support, or tools and resources)? It’s rare that someone is resistant for the “fun of it.” There’s likely some reason, they just haven’t told you.
Find the right reasons. Don’t ask this person to adopt the changes for reasons that motivate YOU. The truth is this: everyone is motivated. Your job is not to create motivation. Your job is to connect the new behavior with something he finds motivating. Help him see how the change benefits him and how it can help him achieve what he cares about. Motivation sticks when it’s our own. So, make connections, don’t motivate. Oh, and by the way, if you don’t know what motivates your team member, then you have some homework to do. Get to know your people better, and insight will flow.
All the best,