Training & Development

Win the battle against pushback

Quint Studer.

I was all across the Gulf Coast last week — Destin, Panama City, Fort Walton Beach and Baldwin County, Alabama — speaking with community leaders who were looking for ways to create a vibrant community.

I shared some of those vital steps outlined by Gallup:

— Create programs, facilities and activities that bring lots of people downtown.

— Retain and build on retail and entertainment choices.

— Increase office space.

— Attract residential developments and hold the gain by having more people living downtown 24/7.

As I’ve discussed these steps throughout the region, a common question I received was about pushback. How do you handle pushback and make things happen? That’s also just as common in the workplace.

It’s no secret: Pushback in inevitable. The first step is to not be surprised. At my age and experience, I can tell you this is normal. Unfortunately, to gain that experience I learned this concept the hard way. Even when you may think that the change you’re asking for is very positive, there will be pushback.

While it’s difficult, it is important to not take it personally. That’s much easier said than done. Why? The baffling pushback you’re receiving may have nothing to do with the proposed task. It can very well be the person is trying to figure out how they will be affected. They could be pondering “what’s in it for me?” It can appear self-oriented but it must be dealt with. It could be anxiety or fear.

Let’s say I work for a company that is about to roll out a new piece of technology that is supposedly going to speed up processes, increase productivity and profitability. Sounds great, right?

But before I get too excited:

— Will this new technology reduce my hours?

— Will I lose my job? Will my job change?

— If it does change, will there be training?

— How much time will I get to adjust?

— What if I can’t adjust?

Remember when a leader introduces something different in the workplace, they have had more time to get used to it than others. Supervisors: Don’t forget what you felt when you first heard the change before rolling it out to others.

Leading is difficult. It involves human beings with individual traits and circumstances. Peter Senge, author of many books on leadership, describes this discomfort as creative tension. This is the tension between where a person needs to be performance-wise and where they are in reality.

The job of a leader is to manage creative tension. Creative tension takes place naturally with a changing world.

A leader’s job is to make sure the tension is not so great the employees give up. There are two ways for the tension to be reduced.

The first is to lower the performance bar. You have heard these before: “There is too much on our plates.” “We have too many priorities.” “Everyone is unhappy.” Of course, a leader can lower the bar. But companies won’t last long after they do.

The second way is to motivate your employees to close the gap between where they are and where they need to be. More difficult than lowering the bar? Of course. But it always pays off in the end.

Here are some tips for pushing through on pushback:

Realize that even the best of actions will have some unintended consequences. Make a list. What I do is think of the most skeptical person on my team and list what he or she could say. You know the person — if they won the lottery they would complain about the taxes.

Your best employees will push back too. Why? They are high performers. So, change will mean they will regress a bit until they understand the new process. Meet with and share with them that you know change is difficult, things will get worse for a while but you have confidence in them and you need them to role model how to handle the change.

Create an anonymous survey tool and invite people to weigh in on the change and ask questions.

Connect to the why. No leader — at least I hope not  — thinks the employees seem so happy and content they need to change something to bring anxiety and drama into the workplace. Take time to explain the why. If you then connect the why to short-, mid- and long-term benefits for the employee, the pushback will be much less.

Like change, pushback is normal as is creative tension. Leaders who know how to manage these have a much greater chance of success.