Individuals will always have different levels of hesitancy when it comes to change. Learn how to address skepticism in a way that makes change easier for everyone at your organization.
Today’s post is by Dr. Sarah Stebbins, author of From Fire to Water: Moving Through Change: Six Elements for Personal Resiliency (CLICK HERE to get your copy).
A silly question, perhaps, but an important one to answer when experiencing or initiating a change. Let me explain.
In over 25 years of experience coaching individuals and providing change management consultation to diverse organizations, I have discovered that any change event can trigger three general responses in us and in those we lead. It is important for us to identify them in ourselves and in others.
The Cuddly Curmudgeon Response: Expresses strong resistance to change and offers quick and, at times, quite vocal criticism. Some comments that might be heard include: “Oh boy, here we go again,” “Geez, we tried this before and it didn’t work,” or “Why change? Everything is just fine as it is.”
The Reserved Response: Adopts a cautious approach to what is proposed — not for it or against it, just going to wait and see. This response might sound something like: “I need to know more before I get on board,” “I am just going to stay focused on my work and see where this change goes,” or “I see the pros and cons of this change and I need proof that it will work.”
The Early Adopter Response: Enthusiasm for the proposed change is apparent — “If we can be successful with this change, it will show others what is possible,” “The positive impact this change will have for the organization makes me want to get on board,” or even “This change has been needed for a long time; how can I help?”
These responses were on full display when a healthcare client brought me in to deal with employees’ reluctance to convert from a regular medical record to an electronic one. In my conversations with employees, I spotted the three responses immediately.
A few recognized that the conversion would make their work easier and increase their productivity; these were the Early Adopters. They, however, were being challenged by those who weren’t sure they could learn the new skills fast enough and were uncertain that they would get the support they needed to be successful — the Reserved Response. These individuals were, at times, easily swayed by those who did not want to participate in the conversion at all. One member of this group said to me “See this pencil? I don’t want to give it up!” — the Cuddly Curmudgeon Response.
To this individual, the pencil represented a way of work that was going away. She and the other cuddly curmudgeons feared that the new technology would ultimately lead to job loss for them.
As the early adopters were moving forward with a positive attitude and willingness to change, I focused my work on the other two groups. What was missing was open, honest two-way communication with leadership. I addressed candor, one of the six personal resilience elements in my new book “From Fire to Water, Moving through Change: Six Elements for Personal Resiliency.”
Through my coaching of the leadership team, team members discovered that they had considerable time to work through their own anxieties and concerns about this major change and they now realized that their employees needed the opportunity to do the same.
By participating in open employee dialogue sessions and using newly created “feedback loops” for open, honest communication with leadership, those employees who were either the cuddly curmudgeons or reserved responders — both initially skeptical — felt they were being heard, started feeling less isolated, and took important first steps towards preparing to move from a paper to digital medical record.
As I congratulated the team on their success, I offered a word of caution about the three responses. All three of these responses are likely to be in play when a change is launched. However, it is very unlikely that they will be expressed by the same people every time there is a change. Thus, understanding them and being able to identify who identifies with a given response during a given change is critical to developing an appropriate course of action.
Certified and Professional Coach Dr. Sarah Stebbins is an organizational change management consultant, as well as the author of “From Fire to Water: Moving Through Change: Six Elements for Personal Resiliency.” Dr. Stebbins is Adjunct Faculty at Portland State University in their Center for Executive and Professional Education. Her clients include Fortune 500 companies, the Federal Government, colleges and universities, as well as non-profit organizations. Visit www.thebetterchange.com.
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