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People Are Not Resistant to Change

No, seriously, they aren’t. Don’t believe me? Know anyone that has gotten married, had kids, changed jobs, tried a new hairstyle, remodeled their kitchen, bought new clothes, read a new book, taken a class, rearranged their furniture in their house, or any of millions of other large or small changes? How many of those have you willingly chosen to do yourself? Yeah… we go through change, all of the time.

Alright, alright, no need to yell! I can hear you saying, “Sure, but not the people I work with. They are all resistant to change, or this project I’m trying to get done, or the organizational change we are trying to create, or the new system we are trying to put in, or…”

I hear you. As my awesome coach says, “All generalities are false, even that one.”  So, sure, there are exceptions to every rule, but I’m willing to make a bet that the change itself isn’t actually what they are resisting.

Where Resistances Comes From

Ever try to pull someone by taking their hand? What’s their first reaction? To pull back. They pull away from you because you are pulling them, of course. Yet that’s what many of us are taught when it comes to creating change. Convince them, tell them, make them, etc. How many of the tools provided to people in the project management space are all about telling people what to do? Have you ever thought to yourself, “I wish they would just do what they are told?” Unfortunately, they don’t. Annoying, I know.

I believe that people are not actually resistant to change, but what they really do not like is having change done to them. People like to have control, maybe not of others, but surely of themselves. They want to choose their work environment, the people they work with, the work they do, etc. When you threaten that—the safety of their environment—and take away their control and choice, you have a problem.

I speak at conferences all over the country, and every time I ask the crowd if they think people are resistant to change.  If it’s a room full of change agents (a.k.a. project managers), most of the people in the room raise their hand! Interesting, because people willingly go through change all of the time… so why is it that these folks that “do change” for a living are finding the most resistance?

Well, it’s because many of them are doing change… to people.

What to Do Instead

So you’ve been charged with creating change and told you need to get it done. What do you do?

You do change with them instead of to them.

What does that mean? That means you go stand next to the people you need to come through this change and hold their hand, walk beside them, and bring them through the change with you. How?

1. Stop talking and listen. No more convincing people of anything. Listen to their fears, understand their motivations, ask them questions. You may be surprised what you hear. What do they know that you don’t? Have they seen this movie before (and it didn’t work when the last guy tried this)? Do you understand the environment? What do they think needs to get done for this change to be successful?

2. Remove the secrecy. I know for me—I don’t like the unknown. I like to know, to understand, and not necessarily have control, but I like to understand what is going on around me. There are many people who don’t like the unknown. Ask them what they want to know. The safety for them comes in the knowing, so tell them. Remove the cloak-and-dagger style of management from your organization—provide transparency.

3. Bring them with you. For some, they just want to be a part of it. They are okay with the world changing as long as they can feel included in the process. So include them! If you are the boss, let them sit in on your strategy meetings. Let them take notes, whatever it takes; just let them be there to see how the magic is happening and understand more about the process that is driving the decisions. If you are the lucky project/change leader, remember that you are there to facilitate the change through people. Project management is getting things done through others. You need them. Bring them with you through the project by including them in the process. You are not the best person to put together the plan. The team you build around you and leverage are the best people to put together the plan if you want them to own it and implement it.

4. Don’t assume they get it. When you understand why something is important and see the value, you assume it’s obvious to everyone else. It’s not. You may have more information than they do (because you didn’t do #3 maybe), the value proposition might not be really clearly articulated yet, or it may just not be as important to them yet.

5. Make it matter. Unless you make it important to them, they probably won’t come along. They might tell you they are with you, but actions can suggest otherwise. How do you make it matter? Give them their WIIFM (what’s in it for me)! First, refer to #1. Once you’ve done that, you will have a good idea of what matters to them and can find a way to connect the change you are creating to something that benefits them. Here’s an example: You are implementing a new system or process. When telling them that the new system will save the company money… you hear crickets. Instead, tell them that when that new system goes in, they will all be able to get back to 8-hour working days. Now you have their attention! Make it personal to each of them. When talking to Susie, tell her she’s not going to have to miss any more of her son’s soccer games. Tell John he’s going to be able to make it to his cooking class. Whatever their personal WIIFM is, find it, know it, leverage it, and you will now have their support! After all, this is just work. As important as your project is to you, it’s just work and not as important as the many other things these folks have going on in their lives.

6. What about the naysayer? There’s one for every project. I love those people! The ones that are telling you all of the things that are going wrong with your project! You know what I do with them? I hand them a whiteboard marker and put them in front of a whiteboard and let them tell me all of the things wrong with what we are doing. Then I ask them what they would do to fix it. You know what happens? They start giving you solutions. Keep digging, keep engaging, keep working through it with them, ask more questions. You know what happens next? They start owning the solutions; they are now a part of the future of the change. You want to gain their investment? Implement one of their ideas, and then another. Go ahead. It won’t hurt you. Let them be a part of the solution.

I’ve given you some ways to rethink how you bring people with you through the change. Now, go. Get. It. Done!

About Laura Barnard

Keynote Speaker, Consultant, Coach & Trainer. Owner, Impact by Laura. Founder and CEO, PMO Strategies. Founder and President, Project Management for Change, 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Laura Barnard has spent more than 24 years helping business leaders in a broad range of organizations, from nonprofits to global financial institutions, get the results they crave. She shares her experience and stories in her blog titled, “I wish I had me when I was you... ™” Laura runs several training and coaching programs that help organizations and individuals deliver high-impact results on their projects and drive organizational change. Laura is best known as “the PMO lady” for her extensive experience in building and running PMOs that Get. It. Done. for the business and teaching others how to do the same. You can learn more about Laura at https://impactbylaura.com.

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