The Greatest Danger in Times of Turbulence Isn’t the Turbulence-It is to Act with Yesterday’s Logic

This quote by management guru Peter Drucker is very relevant today. Citizens’ expectations of government have been ratcheted up significantly and utilizing the previously deployed approaches to address constituent’s concerns may no longer be successful.

By now you are familiar with the different types of resistors and the strategies that they typically deploy. In the next three blogs, we will focus on the tactics that can be utilized to mitigate the resistors. Frequently a combination of mitigation approaches may need to be utilized together or sequentially, as the initial approach may not be successful. As a Change Management Champion (CMC), it is critical to be open-minded regarding the selection and execution of the tactics. In this week’s blog, we will focus on four mitigation approaches, including:

  • Listen and understand objections
  • Focus on the “what” and let go of the “how
  • Remove barriers
  • Provide simple, clear choices and consequences
  1. Listen and understand objections – A critical success factor for any CMC is empathetic listening. By earnestly understanding the concerns of personnel being “hit” with the change, a CMC can help build rapport and trust. Frequently, impacted employees simply want to be heard; they want to be able to “talk out” their concerns. In a recent project, the project manager was concerned about two employees who appeared to be harboring significant resistant to the project. The CMC recently left the organization, so rumors about these individual’s resistance swirled around and escalated, unchecked by the project team. At this point, I got directly involved and offered to take these employees out for lunch. What I quickly realized was that their resistance was not nearly as significant as I was led to believe. After I shared the project plan in great detail, many of their concerns were diminished. They were aware of the rumors circulating about their resistance but were never given a channel to express their concerns, so they festered and really took on a life of their own. It is important for the CMC to be an active listener, by focusing exclusively on what is being said, not on what reply he is formulating. Failure to do so will prevent the CMC from efficient understanding of what has been said to him.
  2. Focus on the “what” and let go of the “how” – In some change situations, it is appropriate to let go of the “how” and focus on “what” needs to change. This approach is particularly effective in cases where the “how” has not been determined. Some employees tend to get fixated on the how and cannot move past it. By focusing on “what needs to change” the CMC can engage employees in conversations to mutually develop the “how”, thereby giving these employees a sense of ownership in the change. In the case of the example cited above, one of the employees I met was so inspired by what the city was trying to accomplish with their project (a new financial system), he actually signed up to become a business process lead. His actions helped convince other resistors and “fence-sitters” about the benefits of that the city’s initiative.
  3. Remove barriers – Previous blogs have noted that employees’ desire to change are frequently inhibited by obstacles and barriers. To remediate these barriers, the CMC initially should utilize empathetic listening to fully understand the employee’s concerns. The CMC may soon discover that an employee’s resistance or objections to the change are disguised as barriers that the employee cannot see past such as job insecurity or concerns over violating work rules. The mitigation approach is to communicate the business case and objectives clearly and provide reassurance regarding the employer-employee relationship and job security. In addition, by sharing the organization-level objectives of the change, coupled with active listening, the employee may realize that the change “is not all about them.”
  4. Provide simple, clear choices and consequences – The CMCs have to be empowered to provide choices to employees during the change initiative. In many large-scale change program I have worked on, the initial direction of the project may be out of the control of front-line personnel and managers. In these cases, it is very important to communicate in simple and clear terms what the choices and consequences are for each employee. The employees must be empowered to make their own choice and be accountable for their actions. In a recent project, an employee’s resistance was unable to be mitigated. Her department director clearly laid out the consequences, including the possibility that her job responsibilities could be subsumed by another employee, thereby relegating her to a position that required a reduced skill level. As the project moved to implementation, the impacted employee realized that other employees were being trained on the system and would have the capability of doing the tasks she was currently performing. This was a wake-up call for her as her manager’s warnings were being actualized. After quickly re-assessing the situation the employee “did a 180” and quickly got on board with the new paradigm.

Tune in next week when we continue our discussion of mitigation strategies.

I close with the following questions:

1. – What other mitigation strategies have you successfully used?

2. – What level of empowerment do your CMCs typically have?

Check out my previous eight Change Management Blogs at:

Change Happens—How Do You Manage It?


The Impact of Ignoring Change


Getting it Right: Critical Success Factors for Change Management Initiatives, Part 1


Getting it Right: Critical Success Factors for Change Management Initiatives, Part 2


Creating the Secret Sauce – Selecting Change Management Champions


Why Do We Resist? Categorizing the Different Types of Resistance


“People don’t Resist Change. They Resist Being Changed!”


“Whosoever Desires Constant Success must Change his Conduct with the Times.”


Spencer Stern specializes in assessing the business and process impact of new technology-based solutions, ranging from enterprise-wide software systems to wireless communications networks. In 2008 he launched Stern Consulting where he continues to focus on assessing the financial impact of large-scale municipal strategic implementations. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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Kathi Rabil

Hi Spencer, I’m a brand new member of GovLoop and was referred to your series from a content on GovLoop discussion. This is a great series! As a government contractor, we often walk in on the middle of a change in direction and struggle with these very issues. Knowing how to give support to the decision-maker to moving forward often-times “becomes” part of the contract fulfillment. I will be going back to read through this entire series. Thanks so much for sharing!