culture

Dealing with Resistance to Change

“If anything, people should be afraid of lack of change.”

Not every change is an improvement, but every improvement is necessarily a change. When I am trying to introduce change in a workplace, I will inherently meet resistance to that change, regardless of whether the change will be an improvement or not. Justifying that the change is in fact an improvement does not even seem to satisfy those resisters. The resistance instead shifts to another topic of: “Well you might have grand ideas of this, but what happens after you win the lottery and leave, or you are promoted and someone else takes over, or you are hit by a bus and someone else takes your place?” How do I deal with this resistance to change? Even if I manage to satisfy these questions with improvement plans and ways to sustain the gains, will they just shift to endless other points of resistance?

Why do you believe what you believe? Are you just arguing from the Bottom Line, a fixed conclusion of not wanting to change, that no matter what counterarguments and weight of evidence against your position, that you still Won’t Change Your Mind on the matter?

If I accept that nothing else will change unless I do it, then what is it that I am agreeing to in the future?

The idea of “Managing Change” in the workplace seems to build up a negative stigma about any change, whether they be improvements or not. The Expressed Culture propagated when we are coached to “Manage Change” results in an environment which is inherently resistant to change. Instead of building this aversion to the progress necessary for improvement, I think it would be much more meaningful to teach a culture of Continuous Improvement. The comfort of constance, whether it be at the workplace or in our own personal endeavors, is a Habit to be Broken.

In Defense of the Meek, the Timid, and the Quiet

There is a difference between self-confidence and exhibited confidence. One appears inwardly, only seen by the actor. The other appears outwardly, observed and interpreted by those around the actor. Do not confuse someone’s exhibited confidence for their self-confidence. The exhibited confidence is a function of many factors, including other’s interpretation of such confidence. The self-confidence is usually harder to observe, but it is more meaningful and better representative of someone’s beliefs and actions.

When people say that you should be more confident, they usually mean that they want you to appear more confident. This is like saying to someone who looks like they weigh 250 pounds, “I want you to look like you weigh 150 pounds”. There is a lifestyle behind that 250 pounds. You cannot just expect someone to immediately change the surface-level observation of their final weight. You would expect there to be some period of time with deep internal change, like a change in diet, increased physical activity, or name your other weight-loss activity.

“I want you to be more confident.” There is a reason someone exhibits such outward confidence (which may or may not be an indicator of their self-confidence). We shouldn’t just shoehorn everybody into Type A personalities. It’s everyone’s accountability – everyone’s responsibility – to see people for who they are, and learn how to better understand and communicate with them. In doing so, we would be better able to gauge each individual’s self-confidence about their beliefs and actions.

It might be easier to treat everyone as the same foundational being, with their actions interpretable with the same lens across the entire human species. It’s easier, but it’s just wrong.

When our workplaces or other communities say they are seeking Diversity and Inclusion, are they asking for everyone to speak up? Or are they asking everyone to listen carefully to each member? Do we expect everyone else to communicate the same way that we communicate? Or do we start from ourselves, as Single Players, to become better listeners?

Judging and ranking people’s ideas by their voice’s decibel level seems like a silly idea; isn’t it just as silly to treat people who are assertive, charismatic, and loud as being more important than people who are meek, timid, and quiet? What are some examples of less-silly ways of comparing the beliefs and actions of Person Type-A and Person Type-B?

Culture Change Starts from a Single Player

Culture change can occur when a majority of people decide to do things differently. I won’t focus on discussing this reason for change, since these will tend to occur frequently without much of our directed effort.

Changing culture can also occur when a minority of people decide to do things differently. This minority must be more vocal and forceful than if a majority were to attempt to enact the same change. It is this type of culture change that I will focus on, for this is where a lot more of our effort is required.

First, something needs to be identified with opportunities for improvement. Not every change is an improvement, but every improvement is necessarily a change. Trying to improve some aspect of a culture will necessarily call for change from those within that culture. Proposed change is almost always met with resistance.

So who is going to identify something that can be improved? This proposed change from within a culture must start from the finest minority of that culture: an individual, a Single Player.

It is up to a Single Player to be able to identify and decide that a culture change is required to improve. This is done in spite of what the majority is used to, regardless of what everyone else is saying and doing. A Single Player does not know yet of others who think similarly, who together would be a minority. But if a Single Player chooses not to attempt the improvement themselves, then similarly other like-minded Single Players might choose not to attempt the same improvement.

It is the responsibility of a Single Player to be more vocal and forceful than other players who have no preference, and even more so than other players who prefer to not change. As Single Players, we will find ourselves in this position frequently.

Being able to maintain a minority position on subjects where the majority is either apathetic or negative towards our proposals; this is the strength that is needed.

This is a matter of force of will, of endurance against fatigue, of burdening, of shouldering weight and blame, and of vigilance against our own urge to give up.

This is a matter of being labelled a “Lone Wolf”, of being isolated, and of being ridiculed.

This is a matter of being criticized by many more eyes than our own, where one misstep can send our credibility into the dumpster.

This is a matter where we think we’re improving things for the betterment of all, but others think we just want to change things for our own personal benefit.

How do we combat this in one instance? Can we combat this over multiple instances? How long will it take for us to break? When will we succumb to the inertia of the mass majority?

I think that most easy improvements can be covered by the majority. People will get it right, eventually, hopefully, if they are actually collaborating. But besides the lower-hanging fruit, do we see other ripe opportunities for improvement? These kinds of higher-level improvements would address things closer to the root cause rather than just surface level symptoms. These kinds of improvements often solve or make unnecessary a lot of the lower hanging problems, freeing up more resources for working on other problems. It’s these kinds of improvements that are needed so that we can do better, so that we can Win more, because we need to Win more.

There may be a time when it becomes normal that the majority will drive for improvement with the same emphasis as a focused Single Player. Until that time comes, there will be many losses. As a Single Player, do we stand by and just watch these losses as they occur? Or can we do more? And what can we do more of?

Irony of “The Age Discrimination in Employment Act”

I noticed there was an “Age Discrimination in Employment Act“. I was impressed.

I then read through the document and noticed this only covers age 40 or older (and other exceptions). I was no longer impressed.

Is there something special about this number 40? What if I am 39, or younger?

Please look at what I am capable of, separate from my age. I could be 2 years older or 20 years older than my current age. Would that age difference affect my ability to do this task? Some tasks may be affected by other things which correlate to age; but is this task one of them? What new information are you taking/giving when you say “well that’s how you young people do it” and clamor against technology and change? Is what I am doing good or bad? Is it better or worse than what we have done? Would I get bonus points if I did what I am doing now, but were twice my age? Or are you discounting points from me because I happen to be in a certain age group?

When you mention age, you are just categorizing / profiling / stereotyping / discriminating. I resent that.

You might not bring up my gender or my race, since these are more discouraged in our current professed culture of non-discrimination (speaking as a citizen of the United States, 2015). But the same consideration should apply to judgments based on age, if we were actually expressing a culture of non-discrimination.

Not every change is an improvement. but every improvement is necessarily a change.

My goal is to improve things. Do not assume that I am just trying to change things for the sake of change, because of a sentiment of “that’s what kids do these days”. Let’s talk and discuss about whether what I am doing is actually improving things or not.

If I were to give the benefit of the doubt, I could say that the crafters of this Act were just trying to be funny and ironic by protecting against age-discrimination only for those of a certain age group. But this is probably not the case.

In defense of what this document is trying to accomplish, I have to mention this paragraph:

SEC. 621 [Section 2], (a), item (3):  The incidence of unemployment, especially long-term unemployment with resultant deterioration of skill, morale, and employer acceptability is, relative to the younger ages, high among older workers; their numbers are great and growing; and their employment problems grave;

This seems like a fair observation. The longer someone is out of practice of a skill, the less capable they might be at that skill. And since this is a time-based measure, people who have had more time pass since they were birthed (i.e. older) will probably have more occurrences of this than those who had less time pass since they were birthed (i.e. younger).

But why do we need to write this Act specifically for people who are 40 years old or older? It would be fine to just say “no” to age-discrimination as a whole, whether people are relatively older or younger. But then I must remember to look at the purpose of this legislative Act. Its purpose is probably not to discourage against age-discrimination as a whole, but trying to help older people obtain and retain employment. This is still a noteworthy cause, but I would characterize this more as teaching how to not lose, rather than teaching how to win, and just losing in a different way. This is an example of a document trying to change the professed culture, not trying to condition an expressed culture.

I have a dream, that one day all people will be judged not based on how many years that have passed since they were birthed, but based on their ability and desire to Win. Winning should favor no age group, skin color, gender, or other similar stereotype. Winning is the final judgement; it is the only judgment that should take place. We should let Winning be more attainable for those that practice winning ways, so that they can be better equipped to win more for those that did not win, those that cannot win, and those that will not win.

Professed Culture and Expressed Culture

“Culture” can be a big word, one that is used differently from one person to another. For the purpose of clarification, I will be using “culture” to represent the collective habits of the members in a certain community. These habits can be contrasted between what the organizers of the community document (e.g. operating principles, work instructions, laws) and what the community actually practices (e.g. day-to-day decisions not covered by or not adhering to given instructions). The members of the community can say that they follow the documented habits, but this does not mean what they actually do when there are no instructions available is consistent with those documented habits. In a sense, there is a “professed culture” (representing what they say they do) and an “expressed culture” (representing what they actually do). Different communities will have varying degrees of alignment between these two concepts.

For example let’s say that Dan and Don are employees at a workplace. One of the operating principles at their workplace is safety. The workplace has a safety manual which reminds that they need to wear certain personal protection equipment in certain designated areas. One of the designated areas is a Building #42, which is a manufacturing shop. Dan and Don have both been reminded multiple times about this procedure by their manager Steve, so they both always remember to wear safety glasses when they go through Building #42.

Now let’s suppose they are visiting an external supplier and are about to walk through a Building #24. Building #24 is also a manufacturing shop, but the safety manuals do not have an entry for it available. As they are about to enter the building, Dan reflexively reaches for his safety glasses, while Don just continues walking in.

“Hold on there Don”, says Dan. “You’ve got to wear your safety glasses before we enter here.”

“What do you mean Dan?” responds Don. “I have read all of our safety manuals, and none of them tell us to wear our safety glasses when we enter this Building #24.”

“I guess that’s true”, answers Dan, “but I think we should follow similar safety procedures that we use for Building #42, or in general any manufacturing shop.”

“If we were really supposed to wear safety glasses in this Building #24, don’t you think our manager would have written it in our safety manual?” replies Don, quickly walking inside the building. “Now hurry up before our guide leaves us behind.”

The visit to the supplier goes without any further complication, and both Dan and Don return home safely.

Dan, who is concerned about Don’s response to his safety concern, goes and talks to their manager Steve and mentions their recent visit to Building #24.

“So what do you think Steve?” asks Dan.

“I think you bring up a good point Dan. First thing tomorrow morning I will write a safety manual instruction for Building #24,” replies Steve, and continues working on other paperwork.

Dan is a little unsatisfied by this response, and presses further, “What about if we go to another building, let’s say Building #6. Shouldn’t we also wear safety glasses there?”

Steve looks up from his papers and replies, “Now don’t be silly Dan, Building #6 is our cafeteria. Why would we wear safety glasses there?”

“I mean hypothetically, Steve” answers Dan. “How can we encourage Don and other employees like him to wear safety glasses where he needs them for protection in a building that isn’t Building #42 or Building #24?”

“Now I’ve had enough of your backtalk for one day Dan”, exclaims Steve. “Do you expect me to write a section in our safety manual for every building before we even see them? How do you expect me to know whether a Building #702 is going to be one where we should wear safety glasses or not? You did good by telling me about Building #24, and next time you see a building we need safety glasses for, just tell me and I’ll include it in our safety manual. Now get out of my office, I have other paperwork to handle.”

In this example, both Dan and Don are professing their safety culture when they follow the safety manual instructions for Building #42. Dan goes beyond mere profession when he continues to express a safety culture which applies also to a Building #24, one that is not explicitly written in the safety manuals. As their manager (i.e. organizer of this workplace community), I would say Steve is focusing on changing the professed culture rather than conditioning the expressed culture. Steve is focusing on changing behavior by writing down exactly what to do in a given situation, rather than by teaching general procedures which can be applied to generic situations.

It’s when we focus on changing professed culture rather than conditioning expressed culture, that we lose our purpose of improvement, our purpose of increasing our chances of winning. Not every change is an improvement, but every improvement is necessarily a change. More often than not, changing professed culture is just focusing on change (which may or may not lead to improvement), while conditioning for expressed culture is focusing on improvement (which will require a change).

I’ve written before on pitfalls of process planning. When planning on how to change a culture, first we need to focus on the desired expressed culture (Output), then we focus on the current state (Input), and then we enact the changes required to transform the current state to one which has people expressing the culture (Process). Focusing on just changing the professed culture is like first planning the Process before identifying the desired Output and available Input, which can lead to situations of Lost Purposes.

When we are talking about changing the culture of a certain community, are our proposals just focusing on changing the professed culture? Or are they focusing on conditioning the expressed culture? Are they focused on change? Or are they focused on improvement?