Change Challenges – how to interpret objections to change

Posted by Pete Loughlin in Purchase to Pay 04 Mar 2016

It’s not saying anything new or ground breaking to say that the implementation of P2P or any component of it is a change challenge. In 2016 the technology is mature, robust and familiar and there are enough case studies out there to give anyone confidence that organizations can be made to run more efficiently by implementing these systems. Yes, there remains a remarkably large proportion of businesses that have yet to implement. They’ll give all kinds of reasons for this – mostly perfectly genuine – but the biggest reason of all is fear of change. From senior decision makers to the grass roots, people don’t like the uncertainty of the new – whether that’s new technology or new processes – there’s a learning curve that many don’t want to travel upon.

Site LogoThis can be problematic for a project manager trying to implement new ways of working. Despite the common sense of implementing more efficient back office systems that will help an organization thrive, they can be confronted with numerous objections. A small minority of those objections are well informed, genuine objections but most are either ill-informed or smoke screens. The trouble is, it can be difficult to tell the difference. So how can we spot the well informed and genuine objection and how do we identify a smoke screen? With experience you learn a few of the smoke screens. They are actually quite common.

Example 1 – The defensive team that believes they don’t need to be told what to do. They’re different and special, quite possibly very well-meaning but old school and proud of it.

They say: “We’ve tried that before and it didn’t work”

To an inexperienced ear, this can seem daunting. If they’ve already tried and failed, perhaps there really is something different about their environment that means it won’t work. But I’ve heard this many times. This is what they actually mean: “We didn’t like the idea last time so we made sure it didn’t work”. Don’t take this objection at face value.

Example 2 – The lazy thinkers. They come to work to do a job the way they were taught and either don’t have the intellect to think differently or are simply too lazy.

When asked why they do things in a particular way they say: “We’ve always done it that way”

Don’t pay any heed to this one. As a statement of fact, it may be perfectly accurate but you need to ask the question “why?”. The problem is that people treat existing practices like precious possessions to be protected. They’re not – they should always be questioned and tested to see if they can be improved. The world is constantly changing. Technology changes, rules and regulations evolve. Just because it was the right way to do things yesterday doesn’t necessarily mean that it will still be right tomorrow. When people say this, they mean “I don’t know why we do it that way and I can’t be bothered to think about it”. It’s just lazy.

Example 3 – People who hate confrontation. They say things like: “They will never agree to it”

Whether it’s their boss or their team some people prefer to avoid all but the most basic and necessary interactions with their co-workers. Maybe their boss is scary or maybe they don’t command respect but predicting a negative response before they even try is avoiding the conversation for fear of rejection. What they are actually saying is: “I have no idea what their opinion is. I’m too intimidated by them to ask”

Going along with change does require courage and when people raise these kinds of objections, they’re not being dishonest – they just afraid. So treat people who object to change with respect and try to empathise but pay no attention to what they say – instead, pay attention to what they mean.

Pete Loughlin can be found on twitter @peteloughlin

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