You calmly open up your laptop, aside your steaming cup of coffee.
It’s a Monday morning, and you’ve primed yourself to kick ass this week.
You’re going to show up as the type of leader who leads change with ease. You’ve done your morning jog; you’ve had your bowl of oatmeal and now it’s time to face those gremlins.
It’s an email from Justine. It’s quite similar to the one you received from Keketso last week, and Tony the week before – they are pushing back at the change in systems.
You take a deep breath to steady yourself and listen to the air whizz through your pursed lips as you exhale – you know what they’re going through, because you’re going through it too. The new reporting system introduced in January is a killer – and although not many have said it out loud (except Ndalo at that team call last week Thursday – wow!), it’s bubbling under the surface. You bury your face in your hands, clenching your jaw and perfectly on que – the calm yoga, morning jogging, visualisation and ‘counting to 10’ slip right out the window….
The above story is the reality for so many leaders who are leading a transition of sorts. As tricky of a process as this already is, resistance and push-back does not make it any easier. It is not only demotivating and discouraging but elicits a threat response in the brains of many leaders, because it drives an even deeper wedge between the ‘us’ and the ‘them’ and slows all signs of progress.
So, what is it about resistance that leaders must understand?
There are many factors that are consistently contributing to forms of push-back that leaders receive when working to integrate a new system. The obvious one, many would say, is the familiarity of what ‘used to be’, that is often obvious during moments of nostalgia on team calls, when we pipe up very lovingly about how system x was so good to us.
And deep inside you know that system x was a darling. And because of the ‘darling’ nature of system x, the team is having a hard time letting go. What I’ve noticed with teams I’ve worked with is that often times, it isn’t necessarily an issue of ‘grabbing hold’ of the new system. The bulk of the issue lies in ‘letting go’ of system x.
Noting this, it’s important that teams be given an opportunity to ‘grieve’ what once was. Similar to how we take time off, rearrange our wardrobes, quieten down etc. when we grieve a loved one who has passed, letting go of something or someone means there is a shift in the brain around the neurological frameworks that are associated with that person or thing. When we grieve, we honour that we once had a relationship with the person, animal or thing and we gently usher them out of our everyday lives.
In essence – we make peace with what we have lost before life can ‘go on’.
So, have you given your team a chance to grieve system x?
If not, here are two top tips to try:
1. Reminisce Together
As a leader, your team needs to know you also sometimes miss the way things used to be. I like to believe there is a thin line between missing or reminiscing with appreciation and longing for the past.
Teams often buy into the idea that their leaders are super sold on the change and have absolutely no attachment to the old way of being or doing.
This is a lie and it’s important to demystify it by speaking honestly with them about what you miss about the way it used to be. I recommend this be done humorously with an upbeat energy, as it can very easily turn sour and nostalgic.
2. Tell them Why
Uncertainty is already the brain’s sworn enemy and during a transition, volatility runs wild and drives the levels of uncertainty even further.
One of the best ways to calm the racing minds of a team and create a sense of not only transparency, but psychological safety, is to lay your cards on the table. Knowing why we need to change and why the change is the best thing for us at the time when it is introduced, can have an immense impact on how we process it both psychologically and functionally.
This can be done through an informal conversation with as little formality (slides, pre-set agenda, strict time frame etc.) as is possible. Now, I don’t often champion this when it comes to running effective meetings, but I recommend it because it helps lower the threat levels already associated with the topic at hand. It is important that the team feels comfortable, receptive and has a ‘toward response’ towards you and the subject. So go ahead, tell them why the change is happening and why is it best for them.
At the end of the day, everyone is in the same boat – at least when it comes having to ‘let go’ of what used to be. We are all experiencing change at an unprecedented level, but the only way we can truly build the momentum and growth the change is meant to bring, is by receiving sufficient buy-in from us all.
So next time you receive an email from Justine, Keketso and Tony, or Ndalo blurts out his dissatisfaction during a call with the global team, you’ll know it’s time to help them grieve, by 1. Reminiscing and 2. Telling them Why.
Need a bit of support? Schedule a complimentary 30 minutes with Zanele, if you’d like to chat about how to best implement the two strategies outlines above.
About the author of today’s Tuesday Tip – Zanele Njapha
In the face of disruptive change, Zanele, author of today’s Tuesday Tip, assists organizations to become future fit: adaptable, resilient, innovative, proactive and confident through helping them crack the unlearning code.
She does this by facilitating the understanding that learning, unlearning and relearning must be the crux and heart of an organisation’s DNA if they are serious about being future-fit.