Why do people resist? Is resistance something people choose? Do they have a choice or is resistance just something they “do” and can’t not do?
And what can we – as managers and knowledge strategists – do about it?
Here’s a typical situation.
I was recently party to a discussion in which a friend was advising one of her colleagues about a certain situation in the workplace. In fact – and perhaps this is why I was drawn into the conversation – it had to do with a problem in a knowledge services environment. An initiative being introduced had been designed – and proven successful in a variety of tests – to bring about better intellectual capital management for one particular activity. My friend’s colleague was having a very difficult time getting cooperation from a couple of staff members They were resisting a relatively simple process change, and they just didn’t want to go in that direction.
It wasn’t a big deal – this change being implemented – and as I listened to the discussion, I realized that it wasn’t the change that was the problem. It was the need to get people to change their behavior, to move from resistance to collaboration. Or, as Morten Hansen notes in his good book Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity, and Reap Big Results, it’s not attitudes that need to change, it’s behaviors.
“Leaders often think that they need to change people’s attitudes,” Hansen writes, “to convince people that they need to change. So they give pep talks to persuade people to change their attitudes. But research points to an alternative: concentrate on changing behaviors, not attitudes.”
In my friend’s situation. it was a case of good old-fashioned resistance, pure and simple.
Here’s how we dealt with it:
First of all, as we spoke we took a good step back to talk about resistance itself – what it is and why people resist. Now I’m not a psychologist – pop or otherwise – but as we spoke we began to realize that resistance is an emotion, a feeling that people experience for one reason or another, and it does not have to have any logic or reality behind it. And it’s something managers have to deal with on a pretty regular basis.
So we thought about why the staff members were resisting, why they were having this emotional reaction. After a considerable amount of discussion, it became pretty clear that the colleague’s employees had not been invited to participate in the development of the new program, nor had they been asked to participate in any of the planning meetings or those organized around implementing the knowledge initiative. They were just handed the “done deed,” so to speak, and told to use it in their work.
The solution presented itself when we heard about all the meetings that had been required for developing the initiative. Only a select group of people had attended those meetings, with the resisting employees excluded. Although they would be expected to participate in the implementation and should have been invited somewhere along the way, they didn’t like to go to meetings. In fact, they were known for often – and very vocally – expressing their disdain for meetings (any meetings) in the workplace. They wanted to be “left alone,” as they put it. “I just want to do my work,” is how one of them described his lack of interest in going to meetings.
Aha! Seize the moment!
Our advice to my friend’s colleague: It’s too late to bring the resisting employees into the planning process for the knowledge initiative, but it’s not too late to break down their resistance. Bring them into the implementation process as collaborating players, perhaps as “team leads” (or some such) for some part of the implementation.
And meetings will be required, so give in a little, we suggested. Don’t call them “meetings.” Set them up as “collaborative opportunities” for the knowledge leaders tasked to implement the new KM activity.
“You’ll be surprised,” we my friend and I advised, “how attitudes will change as behavior changes – admittedly with a little push from you.”