Why aren't people moving as fast as I want them to? - Speed Up Change

This is part of a series of posts about leading change.

I've had more than frustrated leader call me about the too-slow pace of change in their organization.  

Heck, I've felt it myself as a leader - even as a team member advocating for trying something new.  We get frustrated when we have a vision for how the world COULD be. We see that great new process, product, concept, approach...and we want it NOW. Yesterday. Last week. Sound familiar? Resemble anyone you know?

One of the challenges we face when we're trying to get buy in to a new idea - or implement a new approach that has already been "officially approved" - is the time it takes people to to get people where we want them to be. Where we NEED them to be support the growth of our organization. Sometimes where we need them to be for the SURVIVAL of our organization. There's a "head and heart" dynamic going on.  It's human nature.  Over the next several weeks, I'll share some insights, tips and tricks to jump-start your change management skills. For emerging leaders, this could be new territory. For experienced professionals, leaders and executives, think of it as a refresher. At the end of each post, I'll give you a take away. Something YOU can do NOW to improve your leadership.  I'll be talking about change and how to more effectively navigate it. For you - as a leader. As an employee. As a team member. As a human.  If you are frustrated by people not grasping on to your new idea as quickly and enthusiastically as you'd like them to, read on!

Lesson #1: People resist change. The sooner you embrace this and learn how to prepare for and influence resistance to change, the faster you’ll get the results you want.

Anyone who’s ever been charged with implementing something new has complained about resistance to change. Maybe not out loud. Maybe not really as a complaint, but more of a Zen-like observation. Maybe you saw it happening and recognized it for what is was. I’ve had several conversations recently with leaders in a variety of roles and levels – from entry level to C-Suite - about their frustration getting people to try new things. To be innovative. To do it better, more efficiently, for less money, with higher quality, in less time, in a way that is more enjoyable, more popular and more engaging….just DIFFERENT and BETTER.  Despite the best laid plans, ambitious leaders, optimistic team members and energetic project managers get slowed down by people resisting their fabulous new ways of doing things. “It can’t be me. It must be them,” we think. “My idea is so good!”


So how can we get people to move faster, stop resisting, and get on board?

Lesson #2: Are you resisting Lesson #1? Accept reality.  It's in the SCIENCE. Neuroscience, to be exact. 

The cliché is WRONG. Change is NOT the only constant. Resistance to change is inevitable as well. And there’s science behind it!  The Neuroscience of Change, simplified, tells us that physiologically our brains are designed in a way that they must physically change for us to embrace change.  Our neural pathways have to build new “maps” so we can recognize the “new way.”  Our little lizard brain, which evolution hasn’t gotten rid of, still has that fight or flight mechanism intended to keep us alive. And something our brain doesn’t recognize as “good” can be a threat. So we avoid it. Something "new" could be a threat to us. So Lizard Brain fights it (conflict) or runs away (passive-aggression.)

In 21st century corporate terms, we resist that shiny new IT platform you want us to use because it's a threat.  But some of us are more prone to accept that new idea than others. Enter the world of communication, marketing and human behavior. 

Lesson #3: Take a look at how new ideas spread. (Also science.)

Marketing 101: The Diffusion of Innovations circa 1962 by Everett Rogers. Rogers’ theory has widespread, practical applications. He explained how, why and at what rate ideas and technology take hold.  Individuals don’t accept new ideas all at the same time. (Duh!) We’re part of a system and there’s a sequence to how we embrace that cool new process you’re rolling out. People in the system YOU are trying to change are at different points in a spectrum ranging from all-in adoption to feet-dug-in resistance.  If we could physically see an idea moving through a group of people, it would look like one of those complex “falling dominos” engineering projects – ebbing and flowing, speeding up and slowing down, lots of dominos at times and just a few at others point.  (On a side note, when you have some time to kill, Google "youtube dominoes."  Plenty of cool, distracting videos to keep you from your to-do list. Also a nice lesson in visual arts and physics for those of you with kids out there.) 

Here's the Diffusion of Innovations bell curve for you visual folks out there:

Lesson #4: Figure Out Where People Are.

So you've got the concept, now let's get into the details a little more.  Great leaders and influencers understand people.  Assimilate this, Trekkies:

From high adoption to high resistance, individual “innovativeness” is categorized as:

  • Innovators: 2.5% pop. Innovators are eager to try new ideas and are often so interested in innovation that they are outliers the majority of the group. It can be difficult for many people to relate to hard-core innovators. Innovators have a higher tolerance for risk – and setbacks - than others.

  • Early Adopters: 13.5% pop. Like Innovators, EA’s embrace the idea of change sooner than the majority. Unlike Innovators, though, they are perceived as a bit more grounded and tend to have a lot of influence in the system as both formal and informal leaders. People rely on them for advice and information about changes. Smart leaders leverage Early Adopters.

  • Early Majority: 34% pop. The EM’s are similar to the EA’s, though not typically as influential leaders. They take longer than EA’s to make a decision to commit to a change, but are important links to folks who are slower to embrace innovation. Rogers points out that EM’s usually follow changes willingly.

  • Late Majority: 34% pop. The Late Majority is a significant chunk of your audience, taking a little bit longer to embrace a change than the majority. Keep in mind that this perceived resistance could be due to several things, like social pressure, valuing stability, external pressures, or economic needs. The Late Majority really needs peer pressure to adopt innovations.

  • Laggards: 16% pop. Laggards generally aren’t opinion leaders and are focused on the past. In general, they don’t take well to innovative ideas, nor the change agents and innovators that serve them up. In some cases, by the time Laggards embrace the change, the original idea is becoming obsolete.

Where are you? Where's your team? Your peers? Recognize anyone???

Lesson 5: Take where people are into consideration and lead them based on their situation.

Effective leaders of change follow marketing principles.  Once they understand their audience, they figure out who can help them spread the word and how to get their attention. They identify Opinion Leaders. Whether they are for or opposed your great new idea, they have influence on people. We'll get into "negative" opinion leaders in a later post on Resistance to Change.  For now, focus on the OPPORTUNITY.

To spread innovation and increase the rate a group accepts change, start with the Early Adopters. These are your change agents, your influencers, your opinion leaders who can explain, sell, and troubleshoot the innovation.  The rest of the group will look to them for their guidance, help and support.  Make sure they have the information they need – and access to the right people to help navigate the bumpy terrain.  Keep them motivated and involved. Create leadership positions for them, such as Task Force leaders. Ask them for advice.

Why don't we start with the Innovators? That top 2.5% is already "there," if not beyond. Innovators typically do really well with other Innovators, but for the purposes of influencing the rest of the organization to embrace a new idea, they can be perceived as kind "out there."  Innovations and new concepts are SO natural for the Innovators that, like you, they need help translating. Bottom line: You're better off leveraging the relationships, reputation and ability to communicate the Why, What & How in the organization.

Your assignment: 

  1. Think about that change you are trying to implement. Identify the situation that motivated you to spend time reading this post.

  2. Think about the people involved. Where are they in Innovation Bell Curve?

  3. What does that tell you about how effectively YOU are spending YOUR time? 

  4. Identify an "Early Adopter" you can lean on for help. How can that person help you influence others?

  5. Do one thing differently starting today.

“The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.” - Ken Blanchard


Next Up: How could anyone NOT think this is a GREAT idea? Dealing with Resistance in the Age of Rapid Change.





Liz WilsonComment