19 Feb Silence isn’t always golden
As leaders, we are often tasked with managing teams through disruptive change. However, change is a necessary precursor to growth, which in the current age of transformation simply replaces “business as usual.”
Studies show that, without change management, between 50% and 75% of all manufacturing and technology change projects fail; and up to 75% of all business re-structuring efforts do not produce the expected results.
Shepherding people throughout change is critical. Left to chance, unmanaged change can be as detrimental to the organisation as no change at all.
One of the ways your teams may express resistance to change is by not responding at all.
You have been planning a significant technological change that will vastly improve your administrative functions, reducing errors and improving job satisfaction. You prepare and deliver a detailed speech for your team to announce this change, and you’re met with… crickets.
No one smiles, no one asks questions, no one says thank you, or congratulations. You spot someone in the corner of the room texting.
Immediately you get the distinct and immediate impression that your team doesn’t understand, are disinterested, disengaged or just don’t care.
You feel frustrated, maybe even humiliated by the lack of reaction.
You are worried your change may fail due to your team displaying a lack of enthusiasm right from the outset. You are inwardly fuming, they don’t even know about it fully yet, and they’re already resisting. Don’t they know how much work you’ve put into this project already?
Before you react: stop and consider… are you dealing with resistance? Have you validated your conclusion that the team is disinterested or disengaged?
You may very well be correct in assuming your team is resisting your proposed change. While that may be true, you could react in one of two ways to this potential reality:
- Entertain all kinds of stories internally about your team’s reaction; or
- Turn the blame on yourself immediately, starting on the script of “Bad Boss – The defining sequel.”
The reality might be entirely different, and we suggest, rather than entertaining little scenarios in your own head, asking yourself a few questions about the team:
- Is my team quiet by nature or do they require some time to process information?
- How do they prefer information to be delivered – do they prefer reading detailed documents over face-to-face conversations?
- How approachable am I as a leader, especially in a team context? What alternative modes of communication can I investigate to get feedback?
- Is it just the end of a very long week, and are they just too tired to deal with ‘yet another change’?
It may be very possible you are encountering resistance to your change idea and its implementation.
By reframing your thinking in that moment of looking at a sea of quiet faces, you clear your mind of your perception of resistance. What’s important now is to listen – be open to receiving the feedback or information your team is giving you.
The immediate response might be just to state out loud “I can see everyone is taking a moment to think about it – that’s great!” Try not to announce plans to extract thoughts, to ensure your team feels comfortable enough to process thoughts and feelings. Consider leaving the room for a moment – use the excuse of needing a glass of water, or fetching something for the team to read.
There are some other tactics to then discover your team’s responses in a non-confrontational way:
- Help your team help “think out loud” in the room by starting a discussion
- Determine the most effective way to encourage response either verbally or in writing, and how you will follow up with them
- Consider one-on-one conversations with a follow-up meeting to discuss feedback as a whole
- If your team is already suffering from change fatigue, consider ways to break the proposed change into smaller, more manageable mental tasks
We can help you manage resistance and become a more effective change leader. Get in touch with us regarding the Change Leadership Series.
Other articles in this series:
If you’d like to develop your change leadership skills or find out more about managing resistance to change in your team, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
 LaMarsh J & Potts R. Managing Change for Success: Effecting Change for Optimum Growth and Maximum Efficiency. Duncain Baird; 2004. 160 p.
This article forms part 1 of 5 on Managing Resistance. More topics to follow.