July 2009

Shannon Wells

Better Business | by Neil Ducoff


When Change Resistors Meet an Unstoppable Force

Even in the best-run salons, some leaders will encounter resistance when they introduce change. It doesn’t matter if the change is simple or complicated; it may be as simple as a new way to handle customers or it might be a complicated overhaul of the entire compensation system, but when you experience resistance to change, everything slows down. Resistance can interfere with, or, in extreme cases, totally derail change.

And when leaders continually see their well-intended change efforts get shot down like ducks in a shooting gallery, something more than frustration infects the company culture.

When a company cannot adapt to the relentlessly evolving business world around it, stagnation sets in. Comfort zones become hardened behavior patterns. Everything in the company slows down while the competition is speeding up. Before you know it, your company is out of the race. And all because some people couldn’t stand change.

Many leaders see a challenge in implementing change as overcoming internal resistance and dealing with the solidly dug-in change resistors. As a result, it’s easy to approach even the smallest change as a form of confrontation. This is a dangerous and inflammatory mindset that makes many leaders feel trapped.

Motivating and inspiring people to change by using a confrontational mindset is simply going to backfire. Moreover, it gives change resistors all the fuel they need to work their back channels to spin and ratchet up internal resistance.

Successful change initiatives begin with the leader’s thinking and behavior. More specifically, it begins with the leader’s vision of what that change initiative means to the company, its employees and its customers.

Quite frankly, employees know that change must occur and that change can be difficult. They know that leadership must make tough decisions. However, what’s often missing is the full disclosure of why things are changing; what may happen along the way and what it will look like when the change initiative is complete. Employees want to know why there will be change and what to expect.

There is a difference between “dictating” change and “empowering” change. Dictating change says, “This is how it’s going to be done.” Empowering change says, “This is where we must take the company and what it will look like when we get there. Let’s create the best implementation plan and systems to get us there.”

Dictating shuts employees out. Empowerment through collaboration brings them into the process.

Urgency is the fuel that drives change. Urgency creates focus and channels group-thinking on the task at hand. The more leaders instill a sense of urgency, the more difficult it is for internal resistance to take hold. By combining empowerment and collaboration with a high sense of urgency, change resistors quickly realize that their toxic spewing is isolating them from the mainstream flow of the company. Simply put, they now stand out as the source of resistance because they have few, if any, followers.

Through leadership and communication, change must become a non-negotiable process. It’s going to happen. It must happen. Tough decisions will be made. Obstacles will be removed. Improved performance will occur. Company competitiveness will be assured. The company will be in a better place and be able to provide security and rewards to everyone who made it happen. Leading change is what leadership is all about.

Rest assured that change resistors are alive and well in your company. Change resistors are no match for any compromise – if you use the tools in your toolbox.

Rack up those short-term wins. Change resistors love to stir the pot and spew toxic waste on those around them, but they don’t like to be the lone resistor. By creating lots of short-term wins to inspire teamwork and confidence, change resistors become more isolated until they finally discover that they’re resisting all alone.

Communicate relentlessly. Breaking through resistance requires a tenacious and focused leader. Relentlessly communicating the values, behaviors, performance and expectations of a no compromise culture is the job of the leader and the leadership team. The more tenacious and consistent the message, the more it communicates that resistance is futile. Change or get off the ship.

Don’t provide a lifeboat. It’s key that the change resistor understand that continued resistant behavior must end. Participate in the voyage to growth and opportunity — or leave the ship. You cannot spare a lifeboat.

Neil Ducoff is the founder and CEO of Strategies, a business training and coaching company specializing in the salon and spa industry. He’s author of Fast Forward, and a new book, No-Compromise Leadership, published by DC Press and is available at www.amazon.com. For more information go to www.strategies.com. You can email Neil at neil@strategies.com.