Moving Walkways: You CAN Educate Ancient Canines in Modern Technologies

Of all the “reasons” that people involved in new projects use to avoid changes, the “our people can’t adapt” excuse is one of the most important barriers to growth because:

It kills ALL the momentum.

If this phrase has any inkling of truth in your situation, it’s time to make foundational changes to the organization! What’s the big deal?

To remain competitive, CONSTANT change (improvement!!!) is crucial…

If your project isn’t facing budget issues and lacks the full buy-in of all players, chances are that fear of change is your largest roadblock. Fear of change comes in three main flavors:

  • Bottom-Up
  • Top-Down
  • Chaos

Fear of Change – Bottom-Up

When those who DON’T call the shots are experiencing fear of change, that fear is usually in one of these areas:

  • Lack of faith in leadership decisions or organizational culture
  • Self-esteem issues
  • Lack of preparation

It’s true that there are sometimes people in jobs that they shouldn’t be or aren’t reasonably capable of doing. This can lead to problems in all 3 of these areas. It’s up to leadership to make corrections, increase training, or adjust the situation so that these problems aren’t blocking progress.

Bottom-Up fear in a project can be poison—even when people agree to tasks, they may find ways to sabotage and divert attention. Understanding personality types and strengths of team members can help with assigning tasks to those who will be the best fit for naturally being motivated to follow through.

When lack of faith in leadership is a problem, by assigning meaningful ownership of portions of a project to individual players, trust issues disappear, and collaboration can grow innately.

Proactive, strategic training (and promise of future available resources) are crucial to any project where change is expected. The greater the day-to-day impact of the change, the more thought and resources should be invested into training. For complex implementations, training should be staged and staggered to coincide with important events and project cadences. The pattern of “tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them” is a necessary pattern for pacing and effectiveness of learning. Make sure to plan enough time for practice and testing if new processes are being introduced.

Great individual attitude is also crucial to making teams work. If you don’t have the ability to have an incredible attitude about being on a team (for whatever reason), it might be best to have the integrity to leave the team.

Fear of Change – Top-Down

When those who DO call the shots are experiencing fear of change, that fear is usually in one of these areas:

  • Lack of faith in personnel abilities or personalities
  • Self-esteem issues
  • Lack of preparation

When it comes right down to it, the primary difference between “Bottom-Up” and “Top-Down” fears is simply perspective. The common issue is lack of faith in people—where that fear aims is an artifact of where the person is in a pecking order.

Every organizational leader has a fiduciary duty to organizational shareholders to improve the culture (assuming it’s not possible to completely fix it) and holds a higher strategic responsibility to help a project steer through fear-of-change scenarios than a Bottom-Up person might. Personal agendas become less important than organization-level agendas.

Fear of Change – Chaos

Those at the top hold the (at least implied) power of approval. Those at the bottom hold the (at least implied) power of performance.

Those in the middle tend to take on whichever role or momentum they find themselves stuck in, and problems tend to sporadically erupt depending on where the fear is felt.

For example, middle managers must coordinate multiple angles, keeping three sets of people happy—those above, those below, and those parallel. Projects will often be judged based on their vertical success—how the team worked together to achieve a specific result. However, true project effectiveness should also include measurements for how well the project interacts with other projects or initiatives. When managers effectively coordinate projects with other managers, then organizational synergies can occur.

On the other hand, when middle-level project managers don’t interact well together, Chaos occurs. Organizational agendas and personal agendas become overshadowed by clique or alliance agendas. It becomes difficult to understand why certain projects fail and others succeed (it’s often due to personality conflicts and game playing.)

When change is imminent, Chaos manifests as fear through game playing, contention, hidden agendas, and other similar distractions that detract from the best interests of the organization. Recognizing this trap, and aligning attitudes to match a healthy Top-Down or Bottom-Up philosophy.

Moving Walkways: Overcoming the Fear of Change

The Moving Walkways paradigm suggests the possibility of making changes as pain free as possible by reducing the impact of the change. To effectively remove fear of change as a possible bottleneck, proper planning can often overcome the effects of fear before they take hold in a group.

Most projects will have some level of planning available. Even if this “heads up” period is only a few hours long, much can be done to prepare a group for anticipated change.

From the Top-Down perspective, this pre-project-planning time is crucial for identifying possible fear points and proactively combatting them. Sometimes this might look like a VERY positive announcement that clearly identifies the project direction and goals, eliminates predictable fears, and encourages enthusiasm. Other times it may mean private discussions to discover and eliminate scenarios where people might have reasons to sabotage progress.

From the Bottom-Up perspective, being part of the planning means a level of trust has already been assigned—run with that! Being part of successful projects is fun, and true unity in a project is a rare, but fulfilling experience. As a team member who relies on others to call the shots, shot-callers notice (and ultimately reward) those who ensure projects go smoothly. Since attitude is contagious, a great attitude during a project helps it go more smoothly for everybody. (Warning—this MUST be genuine! Done with an agenda—this is a VERY poor tactic that alienates people. Make sure your great attitude doesn’t have a self-serving purpose other than group unity and project progress. Make a great attitude and willingness to learn and master new things part of your day-to-day attitude, and you’ll always find yourself in high demand!)

For those who are stuck in the Chaos mentality, maybe it’s time to just get with the program? Save the protests and Survivor-type games for your social life—your paycheck and your career will thank you for it!

Learning to recognize chaos attitudes (in ourselves and others) and working effectively to help others overcome those attitudes are attributes every leader should strive for. Anybody wanting to take on leadership roles doesn’t need to wait for a promotion—having a great attitude and being the grease (as opposed to the corrosion) in a project is the perfect way to practice your leadership skills—and get noticed in the process.

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