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?

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?

Habit-Breaking Habits

It is important to recognize what habits you are forming. Habits shape your thought processes and actions in subtle ways without directed behavior. Sometimes your habits align with what you would want to do given serious consideration; sometimes they do not.

There are habits which tend to form when you are commonly part of a group. These can arise from adapting to social pressures and trying to fit in. These should also be questioned, but for now, let’s focus on what habits you form as a single player, when you are on your own.

As a single player, no one else is around to observe what you are doing. No one else will provide feedback or criticize your actions. You also cannot look at how your actions/thoughts compare to others. It’s when you are alone that only you can look at and criticize yourself. In situations like this I think it is important to deliberately ask yourself “Why do I believe what I believe?”, or “Why do I do what I do?”, and actually trying to answer. If you find a thought pattern or habitual behavior which does not seem related nor consistent with other things you want yourself to be believing/doing, then maybe that’s a sign of a habit you should work on changing. In a sense, this inner-criticism can become a habit-breaking habit, one you cognitively accept and use to shape what you believe and do.

In order to better understand and criticize my thoughts, I find it useful to visualize my thought process with some form of tangible structure. One visualization I use is considering concepts as building blocks, with some blocks at the foundation and some layered on top of one or more of the foundation blocks. If a block does not seem to be built on top of another block, then it must have some very good reason that it can stand on its own. If not, then that’s usually a sign that I need to reconsider where that block should be, or if it should be discarded. Whatever the visualization, I tend to see concepts as related to each other, some forming in the presence of combinations of others.

I have identified this general thought process as one of my habit-breaking habits, one that I cognitively accept and use to shape what I believe and do.

What other habit-breaking habits do you use and recommend?