How to Overcome Resistance to Your Vision

So you’ve created a vision for change and rolled it to your team. People have agreed to it because you’re the boss, but when it comes to acting on it, they’re moving slower than molasses in January. 

It’s tempting to blame their behavior on resistance to change. We’ve all heard that people don’t like change, and it’s true, they don’t. But that’s only half the story: humans are actually pretty good at change. Many scientists consider humans’ seamless adaptability to be the main driver in our success in dominating the planet. So if people aren’t adapting to your marvelous vision, you have to consider the possibility that maybe, well... your vision isn’t all that appealing. 

If you want to win people over to your cause, approach it the same way you’d think of rolling out a product innovation—research shows they are pretty similar. Test your vision against these five aspects of the successful diffusion of innovations

  • Applicable: Can followers tell what situations the new vision applies to? If not, you’ll need to spell it out for them. 
  • Simple: Is it easy to figure out what people have to do differently to achieve the new vision? Complex behaviors are less likely to get adopted. 
  • Advantageous: Can followers can see a clear advantage in applying the new vision? If not, you may need to retool your vision, incorporating their suggestions.
  • Testable: Can they easily try it out? If not, how can you make it more compatible with what they are currently doing?
  • Observable: Can they watch and learn? Seeing others’ positive results from engaging with the new vision can be highly motivating.

One leader we worked with was mired in project management woes and wanted to get everyone tracking weekly progress on the group’s gnarliest multi-year assignments. We used this simple checklist to help them address the issues:

  • Applicable
    • Before: It wasn’t clear why the tracking applied to some projects, but not all.
    • After: The leader explained that mid-term and long-term projects had different needs, which is why the tracking was relevant to one but not the other. 
  • Simple
    • Before: The tracking questions were great at yielding data, but it was tricky to answer the questions in a way that both reported accurately and made the team look good. 
    • After: The form was reduced to one page and stated that resulting data would not be used in performance reviews.
  • Advantageous
    • Before: Everyone’s first response was that this particular solution had already been tried—and failed. 
    • After: The leader pre-empted “we tried that” by centering the pitch on why this time was different.
  • Testable
    • Before: The vision was presented as regime change—the “new normal.” 
    • After: The leader emphasized that this was a "skateboard" and scheduled retros to figure out what was working and fix what wasn’t. 
  • Observable
    • Before: Since all the reporting was done online, there was no way to see how other people were filling out their reports. 
    • After: Short weekly tracking meeting were scheduled so people could talk through issues as they came up and submit their reports all at once.
 
 

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