Boosting Buy-In

Dave Durand helps a manager deal with a predictable yet problematic manifestation of human nature in the workplace: resistance to change.

I was recently hired to administer massive change in a large and old division of my company. I’m running into resistance, especially from some of the long timers. The change will benefit them going forward. How can I get them to see that?

It is an axiom that organizational success is driven by change. Change needs to be part of the culture for any company to thrive in this fast-paced, highly technical world economy. But the need for change is not unique to this day and age.

Change has been necessary for success since the beginning of commerce. The need for change has its roots not in technology or markets, but in human nature.

The natural desires of one man to stretch himself and to innovate are what cause a chain reaction of change. The speed of technology and broader markets are simply the effects.

God gave your people the innate desire to improve. It is embedded in their nature, even if it is not evident to you at this point. You need to make sure they clearly see the plan you are implementing — not as an arbitrary shift, but an unmistakable improvement.

Some “old thinkers” can be stubborn. They may feel nostalgic for the ways things used to be. But, most often, they get stuck because they don’t see the benefits of putting in the effort to learn the particular new skills, systems or strategies you are presenting. They may feel, perhaps not wrongly, that past “innovations” brought much trouble for little (or no) gain.

It’s common for managers leading change to make two basic errors. One, they explain the change purely from a logical perspective. Two, they fail to paint a picture of how the change will help staff members grow personally and professionally.

Review the approach you have taken to communicate the change you desire. Does your message take into account the emotional element? Often presentations on change are laden with data about margins and other metrics for productivity — but even highly rational, non-emotive people fail to be inspired by data. Nearly everyone can be stimulated into action by stories and anecdotes. Find a way to bring your facts and figures alive by tying them to a narrative involving customers, employees and, where appropriate, yourself.

Didn’t Our Lord do much the same when he told imagination-gripping parables? After all, he could have opted to conduct the finest, most precise theology lessons ever to fall on easily bored ears.

Put yourself in the shoes of the people you are leading and try to answer these two questions on their behalf: What benefit will this change mean for me on an average day? What good am I contributing to by partaking in this change?

If you answer those questions successfully, you will get traction on your change plan. Then, once the change finds a foothold, be wise. Look for ways to regularly recognize and reward behaviors that support your strategy. The change you are currently making is clearly not the last. In this, as in all you do, learn from your gains as well as your missteps.

Catholic business consultant Dave Durand is online at