The Challenge of Change

Question: Please help me with a nagging personality issue I have with one of my direct reports. Two years ago I was hired to lead a customer service team in a mid-sized professional services firm. One of my staff members is overly negative, dismissing any new ideas as failures before we even get a chance to implement them. She has been with the firm for more than 18 years and this job is the only professional job she has ever held.

But I am trying to revamp the department, bring in new ideas and basically rebuild processes to make them more streamlined and supported with new technology. Every meeting with this person is a struggle to overcome her reactions, such as: “That will never work here, we are different from your prior company” and “We tried this years ago, and it did not work.” I am at the end of my rope. How do I get her to get with the program?

Alice Waagen says: It sounds like you have a bad case on change resistance on your hand, probably rooted in a fear of risk and failure.

This may be a deep-seated personality issue that you will not be able to change in which case you need to council her out of your team and into a more stable part of the organization. Before you give up, take a good hard look at how you are approaching introducing new ideas and processes.

  • 1. One way to get a change resistor to try new ways of working is to build in a safety net. This is constructed of numerous intermediary check points that allow you to concretely demonstrate whether the new process is indeed making things better or worse.
  • 2. If you can demonstrate that the new methods do decrease cycle time or errors, it becomes a much harder argument to go back to the old ways. Change becomes an objective, measurable process rather than a battle of personalities.
  • Remember, measurable rigor takes time and effort in itself. You need to weigh the needs of the team and your department against the value this individual brings to the team to see if this extra effort is really worth it.

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