Accelerating change in times of crisis

Just because change is happening faster than before, doesn’t mean people are accepting it any faster. Even if they are forced to comply in the short-term, they will find workarounds or go back to their old ways unless you apply the No Broken People Rule to overcome change resistance.

The Rule

I developed my No Broken People Rule after twenty-plus years of leading teams and helping organizations change, and I first wrote about it in November 2018. Now, nearly every meeting I have with a leader starts with this, “As soon as you believe someone is change-resistant, you lose your ability to get them to change.” Believing in a personality trait called change-resistant, transforms the problem of resistance from an external challenge that you can plan for and overcome, to an internal trait found in certain “broken” people; you’re not going to change personality traits.

Person's face reflected in a broken hand mirror.
Change resistance is normal and not something unique to certain, “broken” people.

Normal change resistance

Everyone will happily adopt some changes and rightfully resist others; so, change resistance is normal and not something unique to certain, “broken” people. Why do people resist certain changes? The most popular theory is actually the simplest: people don’t resist all changes; they only resist specific losses. You can apply the No Broken People Rule in three easy steps; and Step 1, below, shows why understanding specific, individual loss is so important.

3 steps to applying The Rule

Step 1: Determine actual loss

The leaders I work with are smart and caring people, but this error stalls their efforts to create real change: they think they know what people are losing. Every change means different things to different people. For example, these three people resist working from home for three very different reasons. First, Jennine is losing the psychological separation between her home and workplace. Next, Michael is losing lunch-hour walks downtown that were his impromptu opportunities to “bump into” clients and nurture those relationships. And, lastly, Sarah’s plan to build rapport with the new team she is leading by keeping her office door open and encouraging them to “pop in any time” is not as easily accomplished when everyone is working from home: her team members might be less prone to reach out to her by phone, email, or through their collaboration app.

Without asking Jennine, Michael, or Sarah what they’re losing, most leaders assume that they are resisting working from home for the “usual” reasons: losing opportunities to socialize with coworkers; technology challenges; challenges managing team performance; or interruptions from children or a spouse.

Jennine, Michael, and Sarah are not “broken” people who are arbitrarily resisting change. Instead, they are experiencing a very specific loss in their working lives that we’ll never know about unless they are encouraged to discuss it. For change to be successful, leaders first need to understand exactly what people are losing.

Step 2: Manage the grieving process

But regardless of what Jennine, Michael, and Sarah are losing, they’re going to have to get over it sooner or later—and much faster in times of crisis. Simply making people aware of how they grieve change accelerates the process of change. During a period of restructuring, here’s what I said to a leader who had his title changed from Director to Manager, a title change that sounds and feels like a demotion, “It’s normal to feel angry, depressed, and blame someone for what happened. And, you can let yourself think and feel that for a few days. But, the minute you stop, is the minute you feel better. Feeling better doesn’t mean they were right; it just means you’re giving yourself permission to move forward.”

During any change, including times of crisis, grieving is normal and not reserved for “broken” people. Acknowledging how people grieve loss, and then discussing the benefits of getting through the process as quickly as possible, helps dampen resistance to the change and helps people move forward.

Step 3: Try to provide 3 ways to comply

Everyone resists being forced to do something, and everyone feels more in-control if they have some choice. For example, if you need to limit the number of people in the office due to space restrictions or health concerns, you can offer these three ways your workforce can comply: 1. volunteer to work from home; 2. after the option to volunteer is no longer available, wait to be assigned as either a home-based or office worker; or 3. sign-up for a hybrid schedule that includes specific time slots for working from home and minimal office time. When people are able to choose how to comply with a change, they are more likely to feel understood and empowered.

Applying the No Broken People Rule during times of crisis

People resist change during crisis just as they do the rest of the time. But, in a crisis, the consequences of non-compliance are much higher; and that’s why it’s even more important to apply the No Broken People Rule to make your changes stick.

Are you already using your version of the No Broken People Rule? How are you accelerating successful organizational change during these challenging times? Please let me know by connecting with me and leaving a comment on FacebookLinkedIn, and Twitter. Also, please share this article with your family, friends, and coworkers.

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