Turning resistance into assistance? As a trainer and consultant in ITSM and personal skills I’ve had my load of resistance thrown at me, during the years. But I’ve learned to use resistance as a valuable source for improving ITSM. In this article some of the lessons I’ve learned.
Why do people resist change? Resistance is a very natural response. Research shows that we are willing to spend more energy to prevent losing what we’ve got, than we are eagerly willing to try something new that might give us new benefits. So when pushed or pulled towards a different way of doing your work, the automatic response is trying to stay where you are. Besides that, most people will be very defensive and feel undervalued: ”Apparently something is wrong with the way I do things now.” That is not an easy message for anyone and can lead to anger and frustration. So resistance is a fact of life. But look around you to see how much is changing in spite of resistance. I’m convinced it is not resistance itself, that causes failure of change initiatives.
If resistance itself is not the problem, what is it that leads to failure? The problem is the way we handle this resistance. Resistance itself may lead to improving change initiatives. There are valuable lessons people have learned in the past, that they are trying to get across to warn about negative outcomes of a planned change. But unfortunately many people trying to vent their concerns in a constructive way, have been made to feel that they are a threat to the project and therefore the company. That their resistance is negative and non-constructive. Being seen as valuable is an important personal driver to most people, the next time they have concerns they just keep their worries and solutions to themselves, seek other forms of proving themselves right or (try to) stop caring all together. And there you have the start of a guerilla war within organizations, making change even tougher to realize. On top of that the next initiative wanting to use resistance in a positive way, has to deal with the result of how resistance was handled in the past, and overcome serious barriers of mistrust.
Will there always be resistance to an ITSM change initiative? Yes. ITSM Change initiatives are rarely met with excitement or enthusiasm. The reputation of frameworks is mostly more of a horror scenario than an easy to use set of guidance helping you get better results and deal with problems in your work. A few quotes from people being confronted with ITIL as a new way of working. -
“ITIL is soo bureaucratic. Procedures and forms make my working life tedious with no room for creativity.” “We did the exam, but to be honest most of us didn’t really understand it at all. It’s too complex.”
“It’s a goal within itself and will keep me from doing a good job, instead of helping me to do a good job. ” “We know what’s best in our work, we don’t need a bunch of consultants telling us what to do and forcing us to study very boring books and get certificates. And as long as we don’t have those certificates, we’re not allowed to speak our minds. How fair is that?”
If this is a common view on ITIL and its adoption then I can fully understand the resistance and I
would seriously question anyone who shows no resistance. In fact resistance should be applauded instead of frowned upon. The worries about these unwanted outcomes hold the key to preventing this kind of bad practice from occurring. So be glad that people are warning you for these horror scenario’s.
How can we use resistance to improve our ITSM Change Initiatives? First of all people need a clear message that they need to change behavior. In a change initiative you need a clear goal and very good reasons why you want to get to that goal. And that reasoning needs to be so good that it will push and pull towards change, when facing barriers of resistance. In his book “Leading Change” John Kotter calls this push the sense of urgency. The sense of urgency needs to answer the question: “What will be the impact if we don’t change?” With the growing importance of IT to business operations we can no longer afford to fail to successfully apply ITSM frameworks. Outsourcing is a real threat to many IT organizations struggling to justify their value. Kotters next step about getting people to change is ‘creating a vision’. This is when you paint a picture of the future and answer the question ‘what’s in it for me’. This will pull people towards your goal. Obviously if you ask yourself you are probably more stimulated to buy-in to a message of what is in it for me? Something good like better results, an easier way of working together, happier
customer’s, beating competitors. But be reminded; the fear of losing something is stronger than the need for new rewards. Next you need to explain how the suggested change is a way to prevent this threat and get to these benefits. ITSM training should therefore always focus on how ITIL is going to help solve their actual problems and get them better results. The core of change initiatives has to do with changing ineffective behavior into effective behavior. From working in silo’s to working together, from keeping knowledge to yourself to sharing it, from internally focused to being truly customer focused to name a few examples. And people have had very good and positive reasons to display this ineffective behavior. It has somehow served a valuable purpose to avoid working together and solve everything yourself. And they will resist giving up that value. In fact somebody who has worked solo a lot will automatically associate working together with long and boring meetings and getting fewer results done. ©ABC@WORK
In order to use this resistance in positive way you need all involved to answer these four questions and then involve them to use this information to improve the change initiative: 1. What do we know about what we should be doing to get to this goal? Which new behavior will lead to our goal? We know we should …………………… 2. What negative outcomes may be the result of this new behavior? What do we want to prevent with our resistance? What is the horror scenario we associate with the new kind of behavior? But this may also lead to ……………… 3. Which ineffective behavior we want to get rid of, which is preventing us from getting to that goal? We want to get rid of……………… 4. What do we want to keep? What is the value of our current behavior? What is in it for us to keep on doing that? Good things we want to keep…………… This will then lead to questions that will improve the change initiative and result in much more active involvement of those that resisted the change. How can we reach our new goal while keeping the effective behavior we now display, while avoiding both the (old) behavior we want to get rid of and the (new) behavior we fear. To use the example of people resisting to work together again: How can we work together without losing our quality to be result driven?
How does this work in real life? To explain how this works, we will use a case study. A group of highly technical experts that had been able to work as “an island” within an telecom company, maintaining a small part of the IT infrastructure . They had been able to avoid working in processes and were very much master of their small kingdom. But this also led to growing difficulties within the service delivery chain , where colleagues relied on their input. Besides that, they often had an enormous workload, because nobody could take over from them. So it was decided, by management, that they had to adopt procedures and adapt their way of working to the processes that were already quite common in the rest of the company. The group was fiercely against this terrible idea. After explaining ITIL in theory and letting them experience it in a business simulation Apollo 13, the group had more basis to judge the new way of working than just the reputation they had been quoting over and over again. We started with the question what the ITIL processes
had to offer them and what they thought would be so horrible, leading to the answers in the table below. Their experience in the business simulation had taught them there were a few things they knew they should be doing. Still it was easy, especially for the more outspoken criticasters, to list all the unwelcome side-effects ITIL processes would likely cause in their situation. Question 1. We know we should …….
Question 2: But this may also lead to ………..
Structured way of working together
Understanding the big picture of the business and the value we add
Being overwhelmed, too much responsibility
Then we looked at current way of working asking them what they didn’t want to lose and what they wanted to get rid of. Now we suddenly heard less outspoken people quite passionate about what they wanted to get rid of, and it was obvious they were frustrated about the negative side of current behavior. Most pride went into the list of good things they wanted to keep. Question 3: We want to get rid of Chaos
Question 4: Good things we want to keep Flexibility
Nobody knows what’s going on Workload
Freedom to do what is important
Lack of supporting each other
Next we asked: Is it possible to have both structure and flexibility? And see a big picture while having freedom to do what is important? In small groups they took these questions as guidelines, for designing their own new procedures. The effect of this approach was that people who had put their heart into their work for a long time, got credits for the things they did well and were important to them. Now they were responsible for preventing their fears about ITIL from coming true, and showing they had the quality to design procedures that improved their quality of work for themselves and for those dealing with them in the rest of the chain. Working in this way wasn’t easy and by no means a quick fix. It often resembled a Judo fight and there were moments all involved were quite desperate about ever getting results. But it
got people, who had a long reputation of being impossible complainers, involved and agreeing on a new way of working.
Can’t we avoid a long process with a lot of talking? Changing behavior takes time and persistence. A lot of the trouble we are in is because we have tried to look for quick fixes and out of fear of conflict, we often avoid talking to those we fear will resist most. The approach I suggest in this article will naturally also meet resistance. People will say: “I don’t need that. Just tell me what to do and let me get back to work?”. We should listen to their concern not to let go of the valuable structure the framework ITIL has to offer. They will be quite uncomfortable when asked to be involved in designing processes the way I have described above. Yet if we want it to be a success, we can’t ignore or avoid their input and involvement in redesigning the way they will do their work. To my surprise, my experience in companies that have actively adopted forms of sociocracy (a system that allows room for people to tell what their concerns are in all decisions that are made) is that they have shorter meetings that are less frustrating. Once people experience that others look for value in their concerns instead of frowning upon them, they will be more willing to move positions and start a constructive dialogue. Again, balancing the dilemma is the challenge: Can we listen for the value in each others concerns and be decisive at the same time? Yes you can…….