People Don't Resist Change, They Resist Coercion
How helping people change is more impactful than manipulating change
Hey, my name is Tristan Hood and I love helping leaders and teams find new and better ways of managing work. I believe continual, organic change is far superior to large transformation, unless absolutely necessary of course. As such, I created this blog with the intent to share my experiences, wins, and losses. In today’s tidbit, I wanted to recall a conversation I had during one of my Starting Kanban training classes that illustrates how to disarm natural resistance and help you build trust with the teams you serve.
You read that title correctly. I don't believe people resist change. I can already hear some of you asking, "Then why is it so hard to get people to do it." It is in that seemingly simple question that sits the insidious reason for the lack of motivation. "Get people to do it." That statement, as innocent as it sounds, is steeped in coercion. Even if the coercion is for the benefit of the intended target, it's still manipulation and will engender resistance. When I am attempting to change or create a forcing function around change, there will inevitably be resistance. It's unequivocal. If we can agree to that, the rest of this Tidbit will hopefully show you the other side of coercion. I like to call it, "You actually already do the thing you're resisting, you just need to know it." Yes, the name needs work.
A quick side note here: I am not referring to the popular practice of “make them think it was their idea.” That’s still manipulation. Also, I understand that there are times when change must happen to avert a disaster. If an overspending habit has gotten you to the brink of financial ruin the situation is critical enough to require immediate, often painful, change. I have admittedly been guilty of using the "burning platform" even when there is no hint of a temperature change. Don't set the platform on fire on purpose. Put the matches down.
I wrote about this topic in an earlier Tidbit, but I wanted to add an experience I had that may help some of you as you teach, model, and coach in your respective domains. Change is often difficult and talking through some of the finer points seems to be the best way to reveal a decent approach. With that, a story.
Confronting Resistance Nonconfrontationally
"Tristan, I just wanted to let you know we don't actually do Kanban. Our leader got us exempt." That was the first sentence I heard from the first student that walked into one of my day long Kanban training classes. While this would normally set someone on their heels, I immediately leaned in. Before we even started the class, this student was letting me know they were resisting the change I was (apparently) planning to press down on her like squeezing juice out of an orange. If you know me, you know that's not my style. My response was, "Excellent. That's a relief. At least you get to play the airplane game!"
When she sat down next to me at the table, I started asking some questions. I wanted to truly understand what about this set of Principles and Practices were so egregious they would not work in her world of Technology Support. I did not ask in a confrontational way, mind you, but in a genuine attempt to understand.
I said, "Let me ask you this. Your team doesn't have any way of seeing what work is in flight?" She responded, "Of course we do. We use the same tool everyone else at the company uses."
This let me know they were Visualizing their work. That's Kanban Practice #1. I continued digging.
"Sweet! Well, is the team allowed to choose what they work on or do you guys just assign the work to the team members." With a confused look she said, "Of course we don't just assign it. The team knows what they can and can't do, so they have the ability to grab requests when they are ready."
I call this Limiting Work In Progress, which is Kanban Practice #2. I pressed on.
"How about managing the flow of work. It sounds like the team can pull work, but do you guys have a way of knowing what value is attached so you can make informed decisions? And this decision making process is written down somewhere?" At this point she started to look at me with a bit of a smirk. We were over half way through the practices and already she had indicated they were doing these things when, just minutes before, she told me she was exempt!
I asked her a few more questions and finished with, "Do you guys have any kind of feedback loops where you plan or improve? Like a Daily-Stand Up?" This is when she gave me the answer that would open the door for helping her team. She said, "Of course we do Stand-Ups, everyone does that. They could be better, but we do them."
And that's what I wanted. I was waiting for her to utter the words, "They could be better…" My thought was, if those are all practices of Kanban, what exactly was this team exempt from doing?
This changed everything and for the rest of the day this student leaned in, asked questions, took notes, and asked great questions. At the end of the class she grabbed her things and, as she walked out the door, whispered, "Tristan, this was fantastic. I'm sold. Do me a favor though. Don't tell my team. If they think I have 'bought in' to Kanban they will give me a hard time." Ever since that day, when we saw each other she would tell me how she had "snuck" in some cool new Kanban practice or tool to help the team improve the way they worked.
Landing the Plane
Some of you may be asking, "So all you did was prove she was already using Kanban? It doesn't seem like anything changed. You just gamed the system to say they are doing Kanban." You're exactly right. But it disarmed the resistance. She no longer felt as though she was going to be coerced because she was already voluntarily doing the practices. She was bought in based on her and her teams own actions. They had made the decision to work in better ways, all I needed to do was show her I had the skills to help them improve when and where they needed the help.
As I mentioned before, there are times when we must survive and change is necessary for that survival. As long as we understand the nature of resistance, we can be prepared. If you are constantly living with a "burning platform," you should have every expectation that people will burn out. (See what I did there?) That said, if you can cement change to your culture, people are better equipped and less likely to resist change.
I challenge you to find common ground and focus more on the problem THEY are experiencing then use your tools and skills to help them change. After all, people don't resist change. They resist coercion.
Until next week,
Keep on learning. Keep on growing.
sounds like the leader that "exempt" them from kanban should have gone through that training, too! ;)