A recent anonymous NY Times Op Ed boldly proclaimed that some officials within the current presidential administration are actively working against the President’s agenda and blocking some of his efforts. The defiant, salacious, and anonymous message has dominated the news cycle as pundits scramble to find evidence of the claims and uncover the author.
Political ideologies and affiliations aside, this is not an uncommon leadership issue and one worth exploring. When creating change, there will always be resistance. Savvy leaders anticipate resistance to change, plan for it, and use it to their advantage to improve change initiatives.
But if individuals are actively hiding their resistance and instead working to sabotage your efforts, what is a leader to do?
The most important factor in whether you can uncover resistance to change is creating open dialogue.
When someone actively seeks your opinion, listens to your input, offers feedback on where they see merit in your ideas, and adjusts their own plans to accommodate your thinking, you are overwhelmingly more likely to share your ideas with them. This is obvious, and yet so many leaders either fail to do this entirely or simply go through the motions and then continue to drive their own agenda. These are the instances that breed yes-men and yes-women and offer leaders little input beyond compliments for their own thinking, or restated messages that align with the current plan.
If you’re experiencing or leading a change and have not created open dialogue with your team, do these three things:
1. Actively seek feedback, individually or in small groups, about the proposed change and do not provide your own commentary (yet).
Show that you take the feedback seriously by taking notes, not interrupting, and listening intently. Then, repeat what you’ve heard to make sure you understand. Lastly, thank your employees and let them know what you found helpful about their input. Do not discuss where or why they are wrong. This is not the time. This is the time to listen, hear, and thank them for sharing.
2. Create multiple and ongoing venues for employees to ask questions.
Many organizations utilize large-scale town halls where everyone gets the same message at the same time and hears the same answers to the same questions. Others create a “comment box” program where people can anonymously drop questions for the leader into a box that gets reviewed at staff meetings. Still others start team meetings with requests for employees to bring forth information from the ‘rumor mill,’ and the leader commits to dispelling or finding out the truth about these rumors and reporting back to the team. However you orchestrate it, questions will continue to emerge as change takes hold. Allow continuous opportunity to raise concerns, not just a one-time event.
3. Avoid creating an “us versus them” environment between acceptors and resisters.
Remember, we are truly all on the same page here. In the example of the NY Times Op Ed, the author indicates that the resistance’s motivations are to stop actions and policies they perceive as destructive. Employees may too feel they’re protecting the company’s legacy, values, history, or employees by resisting change. In some ways, these are noble and genuine motivations that signify the employees’ commitment, and you want to foster and support those feelings. Even better, refining your vision to specifically address areas of concern for employees (i.e., preserving company history) is a valuable tool of influence because allowing employees to make an impact on the vision will inherently increase their buy-in. Understanding the motivations and fears of your resisters is key to aligning the team or organization for success.
Have you ever privately resisted a change? What could your organization have done to get you to open up about your concerns? What have you done to mitigate resistance as you’ve led change yourself? Sound off in the comments.