I Need an Old Priest and a Young Priest

March 26, 2007

I need to perform an exorcism.  I have evil demons stirring within my department, interfering with forward progress and not allowing innovation and creativity to fully bloom.  I guarantee I am not the only department manager who has had to deal with these demons and I am sure, upon further inspection, you may find one or two lurking in the dark corners of your own departments.

I am talking about those “ghosts of time past.”  You know, those “five years ago we did this” demons.  Those demons of time gone by who still creep into the conversation and thwart all attempts at change and progress.

I have a good number of staff who have been working in the department for many years.  Most of them embrace and roll with change.  But there are one or two or three who just can’t seem to take the leap of faith and trust that while it may not work, it is worth trying.

So how do we deal with these ugly demons?  Is an exorcism really necessary?  In short, yes, sometimes an abrupt, swift, mildly painful, mostly dramatic change (or kick in the pants) is just what the doctor (or in this case priest) ordered to help move change along.

As managers, we can’t force a person’s personality to undergo a radical transformation, however what we can do is force a procedural or environmental change that in turn allows a person to adapt at their own pace.  Sometimes this is fast and sometimes it is not as fast as we would like it.  I have found that if I can make a great case for a change and get good staff buy-in, attitudes adjust a lot quicker than they would normally.

I have also found that being honest helps a transition tremendously.  If it is not going as planned then be upfront and open about the situation and solicit feedback from staff in order to make the necessary adjustments.  Making staff feel like they are part of the process of change instead of dictating it to them yields very positive results and can make the experience a lot less painful.

Still, there will always be one or two people who are still possessed by “the way it was” demon.  A lot of this attitude may be formed by past experiences with new services or procedures that did not go over well.  Never underestimate the traumatic value that one bad experience can leave on a person.  I take the initial hand holding and constant positive reinforcement/feedback approach when dealing with these individuals.  Again, the rate of change acceptance varies from person to person, but this approach makes people feel valued rather than steam rolled.

So what are your approaches to forcing a change and/or dealing with staff who are change averse?

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2 Responses to “I Need an Old Priest and a Young Priest”

  1. cm said

    One approach I have had success with is the Parking Lot, and the Parking Lot Attendant. In a brainstorming meeting, if you have one or two people who advocate for why something cannot be done or won’t succeed, you put them in charge of the Parking Lot. It is then their job to list all the ideas why something won’t work. This is a very valuable service, because if you can then anticipate some of the problems, you have a better chance for success. I generally try and say something along the lines of:

    Dewey, I know you have been working at the Mallville Library now for 40 years, ever since you graduate from your MLS program. I so appreciate everything you have seen tried over the year–the success and the failures. Especially the latter, because that is where the learning opportnities are. I would like to assign you the task of breaking this new proposal: let me know all the ways in which it won’t work. Given all your years of expereince, I am sure something like this has been tried before, and you will be instrumental in helping us not to repeat old mistakes.

    People’s faces light up when you assign them a task that utilizes their special skills–and institutional memory is a very special skill set. By valuing their perspective, you get the double bonus of hopefully avoiding a pitfall and in the end, they feel they have been part of the process rather than standing at the edge of the cliff hands over their eyes, as people jump off. And they learn that as we jump, our parachutes unfold. Or we are in Hawaii and there is a beautiful waterfall and pool of deep water below . . . you get the idea. No go boom.

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