There’s a phenomenon that repeats itself constantly in the business world, and yet it constantly surprises business leaders when it happens. You’d think they’d have learned to expect it by now, but for whatever reason they never quite get it.
It works like this:
The leader comes up with an idea for a very big change. The leader is very excited about the change, and can’t wait to tell everyone at the company how great it will be.
The leader makes the announcement, and watches with great anticipation for the excitement on the faces of the employees. That . . . doesn’t happen.
And the leader is stunned, having been sure everyone would love the change. But they don’t.
With this being so predictable it’s hard to understand why they are so often blind-sided by it, but I think it’s mainly due to the one fact that separates the change-driving leader from the change-resisting employees: No one likes changes that were someone else’s ideas. And that’s hard to accept when the ideas were yours, and you think they’re great.
Change imposed by someone else seems threatening to people, as people tend to be comfortable with the status quo. They may not love the status quo, but over time they learn how to manage the familiar, and don’t like having that comfort yanked away from them for something that’s allegedly better.
Also, if we’re to be honest, we should recognize that most businesses incent people to stay inside the status quo as much as possible. Making things. Selling things. We reward people when they master their status quo. We don’t encourage them to break out of it.
Some of the management philosophies we learned from Japan, like Lean and Kaizen, seek to reward people for driving positive change – even if it means more automation or reductions of motion. People are naturally resistant to those things because they appear on the surface to make the people less necessary. Yet these systems reward them for helping to make such changes happen.
That is not the day-to-day thinking of your average manager, though, so you can understand why people have a hard time feeling confident a big change will benefit them.
But more fundamentally, people don’t like change when they didn’t have a voice in it. It’s understandable that a business leader who comes up with an exciting idea – exciting to him or her anyway – can’t wait to share it with everyone. But to the rest of the team, it feels like something that’s being imposed on them.
Now I am not saying every decision business leaders make need to be made via consensus of the entire team. You can’t operate that way. It would cripple you. But when you’ve got a big idea that will fundamentally affect everyone, you’d be smart to listen to everyone. You might even learn some things that would make your idea better.
And that seems like such an obvious principle of management, it’s hard to work out why business leaders are so consistently blindsided by it. Part of it might have to do with the science of the brain. When people think they have a good idea and they feel excited about it, that releases dopamine and drives a feeling of euphoria. It’s hard to imagine when you’re feeling this way that everyone won’t feel the same. And that makes it all the more deflating when the staff’s response to your big idea is, “What?”
Leaders are optimistic, and no one has a clearer picture than they do of their own visions. Some of them, especially if they’re still new in business, may have never encountered serious resistance to one of their ideas. But there are ways you can avoid that resistance, and they’re really not that complicated.
The first and most obvious is to get input from key players before you simply spring it on everyone. This will allow you to vet your idea and make sure it can stand up to scrutiny. It will allow you to receive information that can help you improve the idea. And it will make key players feel like they had a part in the process.
When you present the idea, you shouldn’t present it in a top-down sort of way, making people feel that it’s being imposed on them. You might present a direction you’re thinking of and ask people for their ideas for how to get there, rather than just inform them you’ve got the whole plan already worked up.
And you might need to press pause on your idea when you hear from people, because even if you’re 100 percent convinced it’s great, you’re never going to make it happen like you want to by trying to fight your team.
Sometimes resistance helps you. Sometimes it presents bad implementation. Sometimes you have to give an idea time and let it develop at the right pace, rather than trying to make it happen too quickly while people worry that it’s not going to go well for them.
Maybe you’ve got an idea for a new service, and you want to make it happen right away. But you don’t really know how to perform that service yet, and it’s better to take time to learn before you start promising to everyone that you can do it immediately. Your employees will respect you, and you’ll be better off, if you exercise such wisdom.
Change has to be sold, but the key to successful change is not just the sales job. It’s also understanding how to make your team part of the change so they know you’re looking out for them rather than just championing your big idea.
You can do this. And the next time you want to try it, don’t be so surprised when it’s not as easy as you’d like it to be. You should have seen that coming.
Written by: Wade Wyant
Red Wagon Advisors