Generation Flux Salon: How Do You Manage Colleagues—Above You, Below You, And Peers—Who Are Less Open To Change?

One of the key qualities of Generation Fluxers is their ability to successfully and swiftly adapt to change—but it's not uncommon for Fluxers to work with colleagues who are not as good at dealing with chaos. Brad Smith, Nilofer Merchant, Robbin Phillips, Ari Wallach, Baratunde Thurston, Doreen Lorenzo, Sarah Robb O’Hagan and readers discuss as our salon series continues.

Chaos is everywhere. Generation Flux knows how to roll with change. But Fluxers often work with people who are resistant to change, or don't know how to successfully adapt to an ever-evolving business environment. So how do you manage colleagues—above you, below you, and peers—who are less open to change?

Join Fluxers Brad Smith, CEO of Intuit; author Nilofer Merchant; Brains on Fire president Robbin Phillips; Synthesis founder Ari Wallach; Fast Company columnist Baratunde Thurston; Frog Design president Doreen Lorenzo; and Equinox president Sarah Robb O’Hagan as they share their experiences and advice.

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  • Scott Span, MSOD

    "Wherever there is a change effort there will be resistance" - Beckhard & Pritchard. Though I agree Fluxers are more apt to deal with change, I don't think that overall that means we are less resistant to change. As a change agent, I often find that Gen Y are just as resistant to change as Boomers or other groups. However, I have experienced that Fluxers are more apt to more quickly collaborate and innovate to reduce resistance to change. I think the best way to manage colleagues in all directions who are less open to change is to create a trusting environment for them to share their fears and concerns, and listen and acknowledge. "Realize the resistance is a reaction to an emotional process..." - Peter Block. 

  • Mair Dundon

    I've been researching how fight, flight and freeze works in our companies for the past couple of years. It's intriguing to see how often the responses that we have to change put us in those states - and how our behaviors are then on automatic.

    I notice that when I or someone else on the team goes into a reactive state they almost always have something valuable to tell us as a team. Something set them off - let's find out what. Did we hit a submerged unspoken assumption? Almost impossible to get to those directly - so it's a powerful opportunity for us when it appears.

    That may also be why those pesky "why" questions Nilofer mentioned are more difficult than the how. Why's can easily lead to blaming and more fight and flight behaviors. "How's that working?" is more objective and provides opportunities to get more deeply into discussions without triggering people immediately.

    So what do we do when someone resists? Do we fight back? Do we avoid them and toss them off the team? Do we stand still and listen? Do we act passive-aggressively toward them to try and control them? Do we stop and find that same response inside ourselves?

    It's not about assuming that the behavior is wrong, it's about finding the information that the reaction itself provides. What exactly set me/you off? Where exactly did you/I get angry, defensive, aggressive or argumentative? Where did I/you checkout completely from the conversation?

    As we become adept at observing our own responses and helping each other when we're not able - courageousness and action return to the situation. And each time we practice stepping in on these fearful, angry, kill or be killed moments we become more powerful as a team and as a company. That's when and where the deeper change can be found.

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  • Simon Robinson

    Hi folks, I teach chaos and complexity to business students and I get asked this a lot. Many of my students are in middle management and they make the observation that senior management are too busy to go on a 2 day course on chaos and complexity. My solution is to offer senior management espresso one or two hour introductions to the theme. I work with glass prisms and Goethe's theory of colours to shock this level of executive into comprehending the limitations of mechanistic thinking, and to help them understand the limitations of their current ways of thinking. Goethe developed a new way of science and colour around 200 years ago in stark contrast to Newton (but it does not necessarily contradict). Goethe teaches us to comprehend dynamically the relationships and qualities of a system, and this same way of thinking is found in chaos, where a fully determined system may well be chaotic, but you learn to comprehend the pattern (at the expensive of 100% predictability). My notion of chaos seems to be somewhat different to the use in your sense, as I certainly do not perceive the world as chaotic, as I see pattern and meaning. Berger said "to look is an act of choice" and this for me is the way in to reaching and having a rapport with senior management. Just to tell them that thinking is probably the greatest source of competitive advantage gets their attention, and then you can move on to discussing chaos and new ways of thinking. 

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  • JD!

    I thing showing the people that this is the next big thing inside the organisation helps... People  will still not move, but at least some movement will surely be seen and showing them as success to others move people in the new direction.

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  • Jason Levine

     Agreed. Understanding a person's individual feeling is key to gaining a colleague's trust, which is incredibly important because change gets a bad rap.  And the reason is that it's usually not presented or implemented with the reluctant people in mind.  
    Most people don't have the fortunate experience of identifying an opportunity area, developing a solution, and putting it into practice successfully.  Change is not done BY has been done TO them, oftentimes haphazardly.  Maybe an IT policy was altered and the implementation was poorly communicated or disruptive (in the bad way).  Or perhaps it was only good for the advancement of change implementers at the expense of everyone else.  Change can be traumatic, especially when past experience leads one to believe that the new paradigm was not designed 'with you in mind.'  So efforts to build up good will and establish a feedback loop between ourselves and more reluctant colleagues is key. But we also have to demonstrate value and do it quickly.  

    In my experience as a consultant, this second task requires a kind of customer service mindset:  "It is my job to make this person happy with this experience, and I'll do whatever it takes."  Show them how the new way of doing things will make their life or job easier, more exciting, more rewarding, more lucrative, or more productive.  And if that means that the we as change agents take on a short-term burden of extra work - even the reluctant colleague's work - that's the price to pay for a successfully managed initiative and good relationships.

    It's important to have faith that the people around you will come around if what you're proposing is truly better.  But it's also our job to ensure that they get the support they need to adjust and ultimately help put new solutions into place.      

  • Nilofer Merchant

    I ask them, "how's it working for you?".

    Let's face the truth: no one moves if they don't want to. It's like having your mother-in-law offer you advice; you naturally want to negate the idea without consideration. So, none of us can create the shift in another person by doing it "head-on", trying to pulling that person forward. If someone is already resisting, the last thing you want to do is to only causes a person to dig in their back heels, in a "no one will make me do what I don't want to do" stance. 

    The approach of inquiring "how it's working" has to come from a place of DEEP curiosity to understand what is causing them to hold onto the current state with such vehemence. Usually, they can either decide it's not working for them, or name what it is they need addressed.

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