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Mustapha, Chin Ho & Overcoming Resistance

Updated on November 4, 2012

Mustapha, Chin Ho & Overcoming resistance

Mustapha is a senior manager in a refinery who is responsible for the implementation of a business improvement program. The program has just started recently and those directly involved in the programme seemed to be enthusiastic about the effort. However, others who are not directly involved in the deployment are understandbly ambivalent, some are overtly resistant while others could be covertly resistant. He’s heard some corridor comments like “This is the latest fad from management. Let’s just get it over with”, or “Don’t see how this project is going to benefit me or my work.” Mustapha’s been thinking about how to get the rest of the organization engaged with the effort, support it and even get excited over it. And how do I deal with these people who are resisting. How to do this? he mulled…

Meanwhile, Chin Ho who is doing some work on employee training at the refinery happen to bump into Mustapaha at the cafeteria one day. “Fancy meeting you here, Mustapha! Can I buy you a drink? Bandung (a pink-colored local drink) or lime juice? Or do you prefer the usual kopi? (local name for coffee)

“Ahh..Chin Ho. Nice to see you again. Let’s have a drink. I’ll have the bandung today lah. It’s quite a warm day.”

“Ok, one bandung for you and one kopi for me coming right up”.

A few moments later, sipping on their drinks, Chin Ho asked “So, Mustapha, how is the programme implementation coming along?”

“Well, it’s going ok but it can be even better. I’ve been thinking of how to deal with the resistance and lack of engagement by the wider community in the refinery, those not directly involved in the implementation, but could be impacted by it. We have communicated about the program refinery wide but I see there is resistance in certain departments and sections.”

Chin Ho, who happen to be an organizational effectiveness consultant said “Well, Mustapha, about resistance - you may be aware that resistance is a natural human reaction when people are faced with change. Our natural tendency is to resist or hold back when faced with the unknown or something new. Consider this – don’t see resistance as resistance per se. Instead of calling it resistance, call it an emotional reaction to change. When we say resist, what are the signs? E.g.s Comments made by people, not offering to help or supporting the effort. People may not intentionally want to stop the effort or block it – they’re just uncomfortable and say things that does not necessarily mean they are against the effort.”

“Hmm… I see” nodded Mustapha. “Go on.”

“I’ll offer you a way to look at emotional reaction to change – there’s the emotional change curve, but I can show it to you later. Fundamentally, at the individual level, psychologists have found out that there are 2 questions you need to answer if you are to influence people to change:

1. Is it worth it?

This addresses why I should change and if I were to change, is it worth it for me to do so? It addresses individual motivation.

2. Can I do it? This says, if I were to change, will I be able to do it? This addresses individual skill.

Now, in the case of your program, if the people who are impacted does not have learn new skills, then you don’t need to pay much attention to question 2. However, don’t forget that behaviors are also skills. if they need to learn new behaviors (e.g. taking initiative, being more proactive, sharing information, working across departments, working as a team) as a result of implementing the program, then you do need to see how to answer question 2”.

“There are many ways to address question 1, and there is no one size fits all solution. There needs to be engagement to better find out what motivates people, what their concerns are. One way for you to do that, which I can share here is better communication. Yes there has been the normal communication through official channels, but look also for informal communication channels. Find ways to break any communication barriers, to get 2 way communication flowing. You could tap on a network of people within the ranks to get feedback. Find ways to create an informal atmosphere to break the ice where people feel comfortable talking and sharing. For example, have lunch or games to break the ice and help build trust between say people on the project and those impacted by it. Once people start talking, they will feel involved and there is also greater tendency to cooperate”.

Chin Ho was on a roll now. He went on “In communicating effectively, don’t underestimate the power of non-verbal actions. The people implementing the program have to be good role model and demonstrate the right behaviors. It will be good for leaders like yourself to walk the grounds and talk to people – besides giving you first hand feel of how things are being received, you also demonstrate interest and commitment to the success of the programme.”

Mustapha took all this in, listening intently while rubbing the stubble on his chin. “Good points Chin Ho. That really helped me gain better depth about communication and how to better communicate with others through the program. That was really helpful. Thanks!”

“My pleasure. There are many other things we could look at to help make this change successful and sustainable. This is just one of many ideas that can be worked on. I’ll drop by your office later if you like with the emotional change curve”.

“Oh yes. Please do, and thanks for the bandung. I think I’ll really benefit from having you on my team, Chin Ho. We should get together again, my treat next time.

“Sure, just talk to my manager or your account manager to see how I can help you with your program. Since it’s your treat the next time. I’ll order an extra large cup of kopi!”

PS: To find out more about influencing change, check out the book Influencer: The power to change anything by Kerry Paterson et al. Highly recommended.


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