A message for the frustrated change agent

Jul 02, 2019 |Posted by Jared Simmons | Coaching
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When you’re new to a role, you’re often hired to change something. You may need to launch a new project, implement a new system, or improve the performance of an existing process.

At some point, you will meet resistance. The team that passive-aggressively ignores your emails; the organization that can’t agree on scope or timeline; the leadership team that asks for more output with no associated investment or compromise.

I’ve been there too. It’s the worst.

It’s draining, it’s completely illogical, and it’s annoying. You’re just trying to solve the problem. You’re just trying to do your job. And whether they get that or not, chances are it’s not you that they’re reacting to–it’s the change you represent.

Resistance that feels personal

I once spent months helping a team establish work processes, metrics, and decision rights for a new platform that would reshape their entire supply chain. Every step I took toward solving the problem was met with active resistance by certain stakeholders. It baffled me. The numbers made sense. We were making progress. I thought I was a nice guy who was pretty easy to work with. I put in extra hours with people who weren’t catching on as quickly. But some people never got on board. And I couldn’t understand why until, in a rare moment of candor between meetings, the two leads for the sales team said to me, “I don’t even think this is the right answer for the customer. I believe what we’re doing today is what’s best for them.”

Then it hit me. They’re not fighting me. They’re fighting change.

Change triggers fear

A new business model, a new way of doing business that they will have to explain to customers. And they hadn’t been asked to learn anything or explain anything other than business as usual for 20 years.

They were afraid. Afraid of being exposed…of not having all of the answers…of losing their jobs.

All of that fear was triggered by the change associated with this project. I was in charge of that project and, therefore, the lighting rod for a whole lot of issues that had nothing to do with me.

So my message to you, weary change agent in your corporate or nonprofit organization, is this: it’s not about you.

I won’t tell you not to take it personally because the attacks can be quite personal. But know that they aren’t seeing you clearly; they are not assessing your skills, your impact, your capabilities clearly. They’re fighting for their careers, their reputations, their retirement benefits–defending them against the threat that change represents. You’re just caught in the crossfire.

I can’t promise that understanding this will make the frustration go away, but it will keep you from abandoning the skills and character traits that made you the right fit for this challenge. You’re not suffering because you’re bad at this; you’re suffering because you’re bringing exactly what you were asked to bring to the table: change.

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Jared Simmons

Jared is the founder of Outlast Consulting LLC, a consulting firm that helps individuals and organizations with strategy, process improvement, and professional development. He is an engineer by training with experience in market research, product development, innovation, management consulting, and strategic planning at P&G, McKinsey, and Coca-Cola.

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