I love this time of year when fall is tiptoeing onto the landscape and the lazy days of summer surrender to a routine. I live next door to an elementary school and watched this morning as the kids arrived for the first day of school. As I watched the children arrive, I noticed how differently they approached the changes brought about by their first day of school. I began to notice that they fell into one of three categories. The first group seized the day with all the fervor that they could muster. They literally skipped into the school ready to grab the challenges that lay before them. The second group walked slowly and cautiously showing signs of uncertainty but not fully resisting. They would need to size things up before deciding if this was going to be good or not. The third group clearly wanted no part of it. These were the kids who had to be prodded and cajoled if not dragged into the building kicking and screaming.
As I watched this pattern emerge, I noticed that the children’s ability to deal with change is really no different than in adults in the work world. We have those who embrace change, those who enter with caution waiting to see how things evolve and those who resist with all their might. With children, you clearly know where you stand. Those who are skipping into the building are invigorated by the change. Those who are resisting the change are overtly doing so, sometimes loudly. And those exercising caution need just a little encouragement before they embrace the opportunities.
What would your corporate environment look like if your staff approached change as overtly as children do with their first day of school? Imagine announcing a change in policy or even a pending merger. You’d see some of your staff members skipping down the corridors and chatting excitedly about the opportunities that lie ahead and the good that will come from the change. You’d have some quietly taking it all in while they wait for more evidence of what is to come. And best of all, you’d be crystal clear about who your resisters are. They’d be throwing themselves on the floor and wailing loudly about the injustices and their intentions to boycott the change.
I don’t know about you but I find the passive aggressive behavior of the adult resisters to be much more difficult to deal with than if they would just come right out and say that they don’t support you and the change. At least with a tantrum, you know clearly where they stand.
During my next webinar, Harnessing Greatness, I’ll be discussing core principles of employee engagement and what it takes to leverage talent. I will be joined by Pam Bilbrey and Brian Jones, co-authors of Ordinary Greatness (2009, Wiley and Sons). As part of the discussion, Pam and Brian will describe the various ways employees handle change. You’ll want to tune in as the two elaborate on the “Tator Principle.”
Unfortunately, in both the corporate world and the school yard, it’s often the resisters who get the most attention. As leaders, it’s important to remember that when we focus more on those who are fully on board, we’ll quickly draw in those who are only mildly uncertain. Once that happens we’ll have a majority on board and change will happen more swiftly.