When it comes to installing a “new” practice, system, or process and making it “the way” of producing specified results, anyone who has lead such a change initiative knows that success or failure often comes down to the conduct of leadership and the extent to which people adapt.
Click this link to learn what effective change leaders know about helping people transition from the way things are to the way they need to be.
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Many organizations today have Talent Management functions staffed with human resource professionals diligently trying
to attract, train, and retain “talent” (the newish word for those paid to do a job. You know, employees.) An important mandate for these Talent Management groups is “talent development”; growing the skills, knowledge, and capabilities of the talent. Implicit in the term “talent development” is the notion that the “talent” will change their behavior in order to improve their performance levels ideally toward the achievement of organizational objectives. Netting it out, this means inside of organizations there’s a department of employees expected to convince other employees to make serious changes in their lives.
Have you ever tried to break an old habit or start a new one? It’s not an easy thing to do. Now, imagine trying to get someone else to break a habit, adopt a new habit, learn a new skill, use a new software program, or do a task differently than they have for the last umpteen years. That’s the challenge faced by talent developers (otherwise known as corporate learning teams, capability developers, trainers, facilitators, instructional designers, etc.).
This brings us to two essential questions:
1. Why is change so difficult?
2. How can we influence others to change their behavior?
The Trouble with Change
According to David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz, breakthroughs in neuroscience prove out what most of us who have tried to change our behaviors already know. Change is painful. It is actually physiologically painful. In their Strategy + Business article titled “The Neuroscience of Leadership,” Rock and Schwartz explain, “Trying to change any hardwired habit requires a lot of effort, in the form of attention. This often leads to a feeling that many people find uncomfortable. So they do what they can to avoid change.”
Another reason change is difficult is a perceived difference between expectation and actuality triggers activity in the parts of the brain that cause people to react more emotionally and impulsively.
“Try to change another person’s behavior, even with the best possible justification, and he or she will experience discomfort. The brain sends out powerful messages that something is wrong, and the capacity for higher thought is decreased. Change itself thus amplifies stress and discomfort…” –Rock & Schwartz
Have you ever tried to drive on a heavily rutted dirt road? You know the kind where deep tire tracks forged in mud are solidified hard as concrete when the ground dries? Once your tires drop into the ruts; it’s almost impossible to pull them out to drive on smoother parts of the road. Our minds work the same way.
We develop schemata or patterns of thoughts and behaviors for our activities. These patterns make us efficient. When was the last time you had to think about brushing your teeth? You were taught step by step; but as time went on, you grouped those steps into a schema or routine. Now, it’s not something you think about step by step but rather as a single task accomplished almost exactly the same way each time.
Schemata are the ruts in the roads of our minds. Changing our behaviors means fighting to pull our mental wheels out of the deep grooves to which we’ve grown accustom. Even when we get the tires onto flat ground, we still feel uncomfortable and anxious. The discomfort does not abate until we’ve worn in a new set of ruts; built a new schema.
Talent Managers and other organizational leaders should recognize and never underestimate the power of the pain of change. Employees’ perception of the required change and the physiological reactions they experience will greatly impact the outcome.
Coming soon, the answer to question 2: How can we influence others to change their behavior?
Sun Tzu wisely advises army generals, project managers, and leaders of any ilk to “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” But what about our “Frienemies?” Where should we keep them? I’m guessing anyone who has had an initiative derailed by a frienemy would recommend a location where the sun does not shine.
A frienemy is that confounding blend of a friend and an enemy. In business, the frienemy is best known for saying all the right things and doing all the wrong ones. Spinning meetings out of control with irrelevant questions or tangential diatribes, splintering teams and causing discord by ferrying ill will back and forth between disparate groups, smiling at you and nodding in feigned acquiescence all the while, frienemies are the hobgoblins of productivity. Sharp leaders intent on moving their organization toward a brighter future quickly recognize these black clouds looming over the path to success, patiently waiting to rain on their parade.
It is not enough to simplycategorize those surrounding and involved in an initiative as friends, enemies, or frienemies. Leaders must determine an appropriate strategy for each group. For frienemies, step one is to objectively assess the downside risk to ignoring them in hopes that they either go away or cave in to the positive influence of the “friends.” This is not a time to get caught up in ego and insecurity. A leader does not have to be liked or supported by everyone all the time in order to be effective. Driven by a need for approval, pursuing a turn-around campaign to win the heart and mind of a frienemy could be a fruitless waste of energy.
However, given the objectives you are trying to achieve, if an honest assessment of the situation leads to the conclusion that the frienemy is a big enough risk to warrant an investment of time and attention, there are ways to press a fine wine out of sour grapes.
The frienemy to friend undertaking begins with a mile long walk in the other person’s shoes. Think about what keeps this person up at night; this gives you a better understanding of their motivation. Then, consider how they benefit from their agenda. Why are they not bought-in to the initiative? What do they stand to gain if your objectives are not met?
Now, comes the hard part. Armed with new-found insight into the mind of the frienemy, you have to find an area around which to grant this person your trust. Influential leaders know that they must trust in order to be trusted. Ralph Waldo Emerson eloquently stated, “Trust men and they will be true to you; treat them greatly and they will show themselves great.” Easy enough to accomplish with friends. Painful at best with frienemies; but necessary nonetheless. Ralph and I are not suggesting that you share your garage door code with this person. Start with small steps that move you closer to common ground and mutual respect.
Consider ways you can leverage this person’s strengths while also assuaging their concerns. As Booker T. Washington said, “Few things can help an individual more than to place responsibility on him, and to let him know that you trust him.”
If you have other strategies for handling frienemies or a frienemy to friend success story, please share in the comments section!