I was in a meeting this week with some senior marketing folks, and got a bit of insight into how they view change, and especially, the pitfalls in driving change. One of the key takeaways for me was their taxonomy of “resisters,” based on the underlying reasons they resist change.
- Technical resisters – those whose lack of skills, or possibly their lack of available, appropriate technology, causes them to resist change. These are the folks who fear being left behind, through no fault of their own.
- Political resisters – those who currently have some degree of authority based on the status quo. These are the folks who fear losing power or influence in an organization that may no longer value or respect their contributions.
- Cultural resisters – those who are used to the old way, and either doubt the value of the new way, or their ability to function in the new way. These are the folks who fear that they are about to become obsolete, and possibly unemployed. Or even unemployable.
Each of these concerns may have a legitimate basis. I’ve been a party to projects whose entire ROI was predicated on eliminating workers, and I’ve seen resisters become saboteurs. It’s not possible for the project manager to address all of these concerns, but you should monitor the resisters, and escalate as needed. Whether it’s the project sponsor or a key stakeholder, someone may need to confront these resisters and either address their concerns and fears or, if necessary, take disciplinary action.
It’s sobering to think that we might be putting people out of work in a period of sustained high unemployment. But it’s part of what we do – we’re agents of change. Consequently, we need to take an ethical stance toward those who resist change. We can and must work to ensure that the changes we shepherd in are as delivered as humanely as possible, but we can’t avoid our responsibilities to the organizations that employ and empower us. Or to the people impacted by our work, both positively and negatively.