When I was a senior in high school, I took all the classes required to best prepare for college. One was an advanced physics class. Our mid-term exam was brutal. There were only seven questions, so missing one meant receiving a B grade. I studied hard, took the exam, and was confident I aced it. When my instructor, Mr. Williams, graded and returned my exam, imagine my shock and horror when I saw a big fat B at the top of the page.

I was certain I aced this exam. I reviewed the one problem I allegedly missed and went over my work. I could not determine where I went wrong. I enlisted the help of my math teacher, Mr. Nash, and filled up three walls of chalkboards going through my formulas. He helped me see that I was right! With Mr. Nash’s consent, I asked Mr. Williams to come to the math classroom, and I walked him through my problem solving – all three chalkboards worth. At the end, he admitted, I was right.

Mr. Williams agreed I was right but was not willing to change my grade as a result. This was going to affect my final GPA, so I wasn’t about to take this answer without some negotiation. He didn’t budge. It was then that I enlisted the help of my principal, and ultimately through some three-way negotiation, my final grade was changed to the A that it should have been.

I remember to this day the words of my principal. “Excellent work, Steve, don’t ever let the system get you down.” He reinforced the notion that resistance, when properly staged, is beneficial, and can have a dramatic impact on results. Mr. Williams went on to help me obtain one of my first jobs out of high school.

This is a simple example involving four people. What about large scale transformational resistance? One of my clients went through a large scale cultural change, and at the outset, I counseled him to make sure he had mechanisms in place to hear dissenting opinions, and then process this feedback to modify the messages regarding the change. He didn’t modify his goal to change the culture, only HOW he was communicating it.

Points to keep in mind.
– Vision vs. Execution. As a leader, one of your roles is to provide a vision that engages your organization to drive toward a more profitable business. While it’s important to engage your leadership team to figure out how to implement the vision, be sure you have plenty of opportunities to receive and process feedback from impacted employees.
– Don’t punish the resistors. During my corporate career, I once led a large team through restructuring a poorly performing operating unit. One of my leaders called an employee on my team a trouble maker. I called my leader out on this, telling him that it was important for me to hear how the change was affecting my team. Labeling a dissenter as a trouble maker only serves to isolate the leader into thinking that he has all the answers, and demotivates the employee – resulting is less value.
– There are limits. In another case, one of my employees became so emotionally upset about changes we were trying to make that he became physically threatening to others on the team. This is an extreme example; the point is to be sure there are guidelines in place to identify acceptable resistant behavior and language.

When you are planning a large-scale change in your organization, be sure to give voice to employees who may have a legitimate issue with the changes underway. Use this feedback to help drive a more successful transformation, and improve the probability of achieving or exceeding your goals.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

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