Game-Changers Welcome Resistance

by Jennifer Miller on June 11, 2010

in Leadership

This morning, while preparing for the work day, I had a random thought and quickly posted it to Twitter:

Props to Joan Koerber-Walker for starting the #BeOriginal hashtag on Twitter.

Judging by the number of retweets, I’d say this tweet had legs!  Or should I say “wings?”  To go beyond the 140 characters with that quote, here are the thoughts that led to that particular tweet:

  1. If there’s no resistance, it doesn’t mean the proposed change is a bad idea.  Maybe what you propose is something employees have been secretly waiting for. (Thank goodness, the company is finally making that change!) Just don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’ve upped the bar all that much further.  You haven’t.
  2. You need to expect a certain amount of push-back.  It’s a normal part of the change cycle. However, if the resistance is swift, powerful and nearly universal, it’s time to re-think the change you’re proposing.  It’s either off-target or too severe for what the organizational system (be it human or process) can handle at this time.
  3. Wild ideas just to “get the juices flowing” aren’t always a great use of time. In the book Linchpin, Seth Godin talks about how “artists” (people highly skilled at what they do) “don’t think outside the box, because outside the box there’s a vacuum.”  He says that in order to “ship” (get the work out the door) “artists think along the edge of the box, because that’s where the work gets done.”( p.102.) I agree. The most effective leaders are those that stretch people’s boundaries, not snap them clear in half, like a severed rubber band.

So, that’s what was on my mind when I posted the game-changer tweet.  What do you take away from that quote?

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Joan Koerber-Walker June 11, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Great quote and post Jennifer! So often, when we face opposition, we question our position and back down when we need to push forward harder and faster. #BeOriginal started when someone ‘called me out’ for always quoting others on Twitter and challenged me to “be more original” the result was an idea that has not only helped me to change and move forward but also inspired others to #BeOriginal too. Starting a movement of any may bring you resisteance and push back – but it can also bring a great kind of pay back . For me it’s led to new ideas, new friendships, and to new business opportunities. So to your readers – when you are looking to change YOUR position and receive some push back – don’t retreat – leap forward – explain your belief, lead change, and take credit for it – and don’t forget to #BEOriginal. You’ll be glad you did. It sure has worked for me.

David Brand June 11, 2010 at 2:28 pm

Wonderful expansion on your original tweet about changes and how the degree of pushback can give you insights as to how ‘game-changing’ the change is. I especially resonated with the ‘edge of the box’ concept and the linkage to that being the place where the work gets done. So thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and helping me to think about how I can be more ‘edgy’. – Dave Brand

Jennifer June 12, 2010 at 8:18 am

@Joan– you are so correct that pushing into the unknown is scary, but could have some really great benefits. You were one of my first Twitter buds and I’m so pleased to have met you.

@Dave– as always, your clever word-play inspires me. Love it: “how can I be more ‘edgy’?”

Kelly Ketelboeter June 14, 2010 at 9:01 am

Hi Jennifer,

Your tweet definitely resonated with me and my experiences with change. So many organizations suffer from organizational ADD where they are constantly making changes that don’t stick and don’t have any traction. In my experience I have found that employees won’t invest any effort or energy (good or bad) in changes that they don’t believe will last. So if there isn’t any resistance it’s because the employees don’t believe that the change is worthy of their efforts and therefore it is not a game changer. Changing for the sake of change does not serve an organizations best interests. Changes have got be game changers in order for the organization to thrive.

I also agree with your point on resistance being a normal part of the change cycle. That’s because human nature is to resist change. We want to be as comfortable as possible without having to make any changes. If there isn’t that resistance one has to question the validity of the change, the communication of the change, the sponsorship of the change among the leadership team and the belief that the change is going to impact customers, employees and other stakeholders positively.

Thanks for the thought provoking tweet and post!

David M. Kasprzak June 15, 2010 at 8:35 pm

Hi, Jennifer!

As I read this post, I was reminded of Shigeo Shingo’s statement that “95% of all objection is cautionary.” Since change is resisted naturally due to people’s unfamiliarity with what’s being proposed and, consequently, distrust emerges, your quote rings very true. If people don’t object, it’s simply not a significant enough change to evoke those emotions. Hence, it’s not a gamechanger!

It’s an interesting litmus test for when we think we’ve stumbled upon a true innovation: Gauge the level of objection that’s generated.

Alicia Arenas (@AliciaSanera) June 16, 2010 at 6:59 am

Jennifer, as soon as I read the tweet, I was intrigued. Part of my job as a small business coach is to help my clients become more comfortable with the unknown. Being original is no longer a “nice to have;” it is absolutely essential for small businesses to thrive long-term. In my practice I’ve found the number one blockade to innovation is fear of failure or what I call “perfection paralysis.”

Thanks for the inspirational post!

Jennifer June 16, 2010 at 8:19 am

@Kelly– “organizational ADD”– have you blogged about this? If not, there’s a post in it for you. Love that idea!

@David– thank so much for the Shingo quote. Whenever I read your blog or tweet, I’m introduced to something new; it’s great! And thought-provoking too. Thanks for stopping by The People Equation.

@Alicia– I love how you see this as a thought-provoker for the small business owner. That’s an angle I hadn’t considered. So true– “perfection paralysis” can easily set in. I was just counseling a colleague who is considering hanging out a shingle and “going solo”. She was really in the quagmire of doubts. I reminded her that very little in this life is totally irreversible. So often, we forget that if we choose a path and it doesn’t work out, we *can* change direction.

Peggy Carlaw July 8, 2010 at 10:09 am

Great fodder for leadership thought, Jennifer. I see it from both sides. As a consultant called in to help organizations develop a service-oriented culture, I sometimes see employees rolling their eyes at yet another initiative from management. They figure if they just humor the higher-ups, all the excitement will all pass in a few months and they can get back to business as usual. I don’t know if management is resistant to pushback, or rather just not willing to invest in what it takes to shepherd their staff through change and make it lasting.

As the owner of a business, on the other hand, I definitely feel pushback from employees when we embark on a new strategic direction. And since I have a need to please people and let them express themselves as much as possible at work, this creates some doubt and internal discord. So this post has been personally, helpful to me.

I think the key is stated in #2: expect some pushback as people rethink how the company functions, their new place in it, and what change means to them, but if it’s starting to sound like mutiny, beware! As leaders, we’re in charge of the direction of our companies or departments. It’s important to listen to employees and their concerns and pushback and consider what they say. Ultimately, though, the decision, be it good or bad, is ours. Then the challenge becomes to motivate, encourage, and coach our employees through change.

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