Responses to change occur on a spectrum between emotional and rational. Based on how much experience they have with the particular type of change they are being faced with, they may respond out of fear or out of inquiry.
During the course of any change event, people will change their response type as they learn more. Sometimes they will move from rational to emotional because they suddenly realize there may actually be an impact to their job. Other times (and hopefully usually) they move from emotional to rational as they realize there will be less impact to them than they originally expected.
Knowing where your audience is on this spectrum will allow you to better communicate with them. Never share messages targeted at managing emotion at a rational audience. They will simply see a message that implies they should be concerned and start to wonder why they aren’t. Similarly, rational messages targeting an emotional audience will be completely ignored because it isn’t addressing the concerns that people are feeling.
Communications are the key to successful project outcomes. Effective communications start from understanding not just the audience but the audience’s state of mind. When both components are brought together, you will be in a much better position to drive your change project to a successful conclusion.
I’ve been involved in a few workplace transformation projects in my career and all of them (without exception) begin with managers saying that it will never work for their team. “Sure, in principle, it could work for everyone else, but my team is different. We are all in the office every day, we’re already collaborative and changing how we do things will cost the company money.”
Whether managers intentionally don’t know the habits of their team or simply misunderstand how the work gets done, I’ve never encountered an initial meeting that went any other way. Even project sponsors and champions will fall back on the theory for their own “small” teams. It is an infallible rule of the workplace.
I’ve come to believe that most of this thinking comes down to incentives and expectations (don’t most things in life?). If a manager says that half of their team works from home 3 days a week yet there isn’t a work from home policy they could get in trouble from their bosses above them. If they delegate so much that they themselves work from home 4 days a week and don’t actually know how things happen in the office you get the same effect. Similarly, many teams may disguise their work patterns because they don’t want their boss to realize how often they work from places other than the office.
Much of it can also come down to the office safety net. Many people believe that as long as they have a desk with pictures of their family, pets, and vacations they have job security. Surely it is easier to lay off someone who isn’t assigned to a desk than someone who has a permanent seat? By keeping all the seats (regardless of impact on performance) they are protecting their people.
What they refuse to realize until after it is all said and done is that new workplaces often support teams better and create more flexibility. They don’t realize that refusing to participate comes off like they are going against corporate strategy (what real estate group drives through a workplace transformation without executive blessing?).
Speaking yesterday about noise being a healthy part of culture, made me think about the difference between resistance and inquiry. Some types of noise imply dissatisfaction or resentment (resistance) while other types are genuinely trying to be constructive or innovative (inquiry). But sometimes it can be very difficult to tell the difference.
For example: “I can’t believe how long it takes us to process these forms!” Could fall into either bucket depending on who is saying it, why they are choosing to say it, who they are saying it to and how often they’ve said it in the past. If it is something they’ve been saying twice a week for 10 years without doing anything about it, it’s most likely resistance. But if they are saying it with the desire to improve and fix the process, it becomes inquiry.
To be a good leader, you must be open to noise and able to tell the difference between when you need to walk someone off of a ledge versus push them to take their ideas to the next level and actually effect change. It’s not easy; it’s actually impossible without empathy.
If there’s one thing all of us in the CRE world deal with it is operations that don’t want to change. They don’t want to move to the new site, they don’t want to give up their offices, they don’t want a new color on the wall. Pushing for change is a core part to everything that we do.
The hardest change to drive is that with entrenched institutions. Those groups that have been around forever and are considered untouchable by the business. The groups that have power, influence and money and can block any change you try to bring them if they want to. This is where we really earn our money and how we move a company for the good.
Driving change starts and ends with communication. It’s almost like a broken record around here but it is fundamentally true. No change happens without communication. If people don’t understand why you are pushing change they will resist it. If people don’t understand the benefit to them they will resist it. If leaders can’t communicate the message with you then their teams will resist it. If you don’t keep pushing the message they will all forget it and move right back to resisting.
Can we push through solutions without everyone on board? Of course. But down that road lies productivity losses, turnover and discontentment. Change is not good when it hurts the business. In CRE our primary responsible is to be stewards of the business and push everyone in a direction the benefits the whole. We don’t sell widgets but we give the people that do a place they can comfortably work from. We don’t put the widgets into a box and ship them to customers but we do make sure the distribution center is correctly located and sized for everything that needs to happen.
It’s easy for the business to forget about the role of real estate because we try not to impact individual employees too often. But there is value in what we do and if we work with the business and the institutions that drive the enterprise forward amazing things can happen. When we don’t communicate and just hope for things to work out bad things can happen quickly.
There is a classic situation in business where everyone realizes that there are significant (but often relatively minor impact to today) long-term problems that need to be fixed. Often time the new service provider is brought in with a goal of fixing those problems for the business – usually while also delivering services against the needs of today. It’s safe to say that rarely do the long-term problems get solved in this solution.
I was reading an article this morning on Medium about why a founder shutdown his startup even though there were active employees and investors encouraging him to move forward. His reasoning resonated perfectly with me and I’ll summarize it as: His solution solved a huge number of long-term customer issues but customers were not actively engaging in the product because it didn’t do anything for them today. He couldn’t figure out how to overcome the hurdle of getting active usage today.
As an independent, outside consultant to the companies that bring me in I often see a number of things that could improve the business – but they require the current team to change the way they do things with no discernible immediate benefit. It is nearly impossible to make people change their current behavior without:
- Making their work notably easier today (and you can’t just take away one difficult task and replace it with another for a net zero change).
- Dictating from the top down that a change will occur and then enforcing it every single day.
- Monetarily incentivizing them to change (often this is still tied to #2).
Outside of those three things it is rare for long-term positive change to occur. Where it does you typically find a superstar A player on a team that has a strong desire to advance their career by proving themselves to the business. If this happens take care of that person.
What is most common is that as the outside party we are asked to help a company move from where they are today to a better future but they aren’t willing to commit to any of the 3 conditions above. Ever wonder why simple technology systems end up with bad data? Because they were put in place with none of the 3 conditions above. Everyday there are employees doing things that drive no long-term value to the business but continue to do them because no one has told them to stop and change. Momentum is one of the most powerful business conditions.
Sometimes the only thing you can do is look to the future and see if you have a path to get you from where you are today to where you want to be tomorrow. If there is no viable way forward it is time to step back and reconsider what you are trying to do.
Think of what happens when you want to use your lawn mower. You pull it out of the garage while it sits there all quiet and useless. Only by pulling the cord does it roar to life and become a tool that allows you to cut the grass. Until that dramatic pull which turns the engine nothing is possible. Over time the mower will sputter out and go go quiet. It may still be running around the yard looking like they are doing something but eventually the grass begins to get taller and people notice that the mower isn’t cutting anymore. Through sheer momentum it may take time to eventually realize a dramatic move is required to get things started again.
Moving away from metaphors (the lawn mower was your business if you didn’t see it), business often need a strong kick start to get back on track. The power of momentum and recent history can pull even the most hardy of companies into bad places. The longer off-course, the more dramatic the change required to get things going again. A side effect of this dramatic change is that sometimes the change itself causes a separate explosion.
I’m not sure exactly what conclusion I want you to draw except to pay attention. Watch to see whether the grass is still being cut or just growing too slowly to notice. Only through attention can you keep things on track.
A couple of weeks ago I began trying to incorporate task management into what my daily processes. I’ve been down this road before with any.do, asana, wunderlist and a couple of others. None ever caught on with me. This time I’m trying Google Keep to see if something more integrated with my existing tools helps. We’ll see if it works better this time and I will keep you updated (if it works).
The reason I’m trying again is because I was at a multi-day offsite meeting that spurred so many ideas, discussions and opportunities that I couldn’t wrap my head around how to keep up with them. It was everything from immediate actions, strategic initiatives, ideas for topics to write about, projects that needed to be scoped and just general actions. There were probably 8 pages of notes in my paper notebook that I keep with me. Way more than I could hope to keep up with manually.
I work best without too much structure. If I’m simply following a rote process my interest quickly drifts and I lose focus until a deadline forces me to update things again. However, give me an open ended problem with potential for creative solutions and I can work until it is solved to my satisfaction. What I like about Google Keep so far is that it is unstructured and built around ideas (or cards if you prefer). You can keep it free floating or you can add some definition to it.
Ideas fascinate me because any given idea exists in an infinite number of forms. Give the same 10 people the same idea and it will suddenly evolve, morph and adapt given different circumstances and experiences of the people thinking on them. Provide a time for contemplation and they will change even more – often splitting into new and unique additional ideas as they go.
Ideas are the foundation of creativity. Creativity is the foundation of innovation. Innovation is the foundation of the future. Therefore all the simple little ideas we have floating around in the back of our subconscious are the basis of a new future if we can learn to harness them. Keeping them for a rainy day can be an amazing investment.