Editor's Note: We reward professionals often bemoan the resistance to change (the smart changes that WE recommend) on the part of organization leaders and line managers - but I wonder how often the tables are turned and how often WE are the obstacles. The stubborn ones. A good time to revisit Chuck Csizmar's great post on the topic.
I share my house with a brood of cats and it’s been that way for as long as I can remember. I love them, but recognize that they are stubborn, stubborn, stubborn creatures, and at times it seems like they’re the ones who run the place.
Have you ever tried to change a cat’s food, or their litter box, or their water dish? They don’t react well to the new and different, and when they don’t react well their loud and disdainful behavior can really disrupt your day.
These felines are also creatures of habit, preferring a daily pattern of repeated behavior that in their view creates a safe and reassuring environment – where they feel the most comfortable. Break that pattern and you get the look, or worse. I can attest to the fact that dealing with the stubborn and habitual can be a real trial.
In the business world there are many companies run by a leadership who possess similar inflexible behavior, an aversion to breaks in pattern. Those who like things just the way they are. Whoever coined the phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” was probably a charter member in that "blinders on, head in the sand" leadership cadre who likes things just the way they are.
While it’s a truism that yesterday's strategy and operating principles are rarely a recipe for future success, how often do you see managers hang on to what used to work - until the signs of failure become so visible and so painful that it can no longer be accepted?
These folks with their heads in the sand are not necessarily bad managers, or even poor business leaders. What they are is comfortable, and when we’re comfortable we feel safe, relaxed in our surroundings, familiar with what needs to get done and a bit over confident about our control of our business environment.
When we feel comfortable and confident we prefer to repeat those same actions that brought us to our present state of mental ease. In other words, we don’t like to rock the boat, we don’t like “change for the sake of change,” and we’re skeptical of new and unproven techniques. We get stubborn and dig in our heels.
It’s worked before, it brought us success. Let’s leave it alone.
However, when someone or some event breaks that comfort level (new competition, weakened economy, technological advances, etc.), the first thing we experience is anger that our warm cocoon could be shattered by new business realities. Soon enough though, that anger will convert to a sense of fear, whether we admit it or not. More likely we’ll act out in an aggressive fashion that disguises the panic we feel.
People can be fearful of change, especially leaders. Because they don't know the new rules, because there are risks when implementing new strategies, and those who stick their head above the crowd can get it chopped off. We’ve all seen that happen.
When you must get yourself up and out of your comfort zone it’s a natural reaction to feel defensive and unsure about what you should do next. Leadership may not have the competencies or the experience to adapt to new business challenges. It’s not difficult to lead when things are going well. But when the going gets rough, when the pressure is on to change course, to implement new strategies, not so much.
I’m not sure about what to do; everything has changed.
Pushed out from their safe environment management can find itself unsure, defensive and unsettled about the correct way forward. And until matters settle down again they can be difficult for practitioners to work with.
You can help them
You may consider managers stuck in the past as living dinosaurs, but have a care because these beasts have teeth. They don’t like this uncomfortable new world, and they tend to shoot the messengers. To offer assistance to a leadership challenged by the unfamiliar, practitioners need to step up and provide steady, confident and reliable advice.
- Acknowledge the past: Yes, previous strategies have worked well and brought the company success and financial strength, reputation and a strong foundation for the future. A pat on the shoulders for management.
- Focus on the why: Whenever advocating change, focus your message, your research, your examples and your entire business case on why your recommendations lead to solutions. Keep your eye on the goal, not that you’re changing patterns of behavior.
- Dangle the carrot: Always point toward the business and personal success that would be the result of your recommendations. Besides showing the achievement of business success, emphasize that the deciding leadership will gain credit for managing the organization through these difficult times. Stroking the ego doesn’t hurt here.
The next time someone comes to you with an idea to build a better mousetrap, listen to them. Keep your eyes, your mind and your options open. Instead of being afraid of change embrace the opportunities presented. It can make for a better tomorrow, and you’ll shake the tag of “stubborn.”
Chuck Csizmar CCP is founder and Principal of CMC Compensation Group, providing global compensation consulting services to a wide variety of industries and non-profit organizations. He is also associated with several HR Consulting firms as a contributing consultant. Chuck is a broad based subject matter expert with a specialty in international and expatriate compensation. He lives in Central Florida (near The Mouse) and enjoys growing fruit and managing (?) a clowder of cats.
Creative Commons image courtesy of Jo Bowling