A Personal Vision Shift

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

A Personal Vision Shift

Explores why it is important to be clear where we focus our attention.


by Rick Maurer

Bryan McGraw has quite a story to tell regarding resistance. He admitted, “I was a resister when I was thrust into a new role as quality officer at a military base.” He was fearful of the unknown and a little afraid that if he did the work well he might put himself out of a job. (This is Level 2 Resistance – an emotional reaction to the change.)

But he did his job. For example, he offered lots of training programs on quality. However, since he hadn’t been given any training in how to work with change and resistance, his training programs often generated resistance to (and not support for) quality improvement.

He said, “I got tired of working my buns off. I had to go through my own vision shift.” He began by clarifying his own priorities and focusing on what was really important to him. Coming to grips with his own resistance gave Bryan insight into helping others grapple with the issues. He told me, “You have to understand emotion and gain an understanding of the individual, in contrast to the typical change agent who comes in and says, “Here’s the change,” and then leaves. We need to make an attempt to really get to know the people and operation. This gives us more insight into their priorities – and pet peeves.”

“Look for common themes. Ask teams basic questions about hobbies or interests they are really passionate about. Pet peeves may seem off the wall, but they are relevant as well. They define who we are.”

He suggests listening for metaphors. “If they like gardening, you can use that metaphor.”

I agree. It is often most powerful to build on their metaphors rather than trying to introduce your own. So, if you love ballet and the group is wild about WWF Smackdown, save the ballet stories for Saturday night and learn to build on their passion for wrestling.

Bryan suggests paying attention to style. For example, “If a person doesn’t like to procrastinate, then I make sure I respect that.”

I asked for an example of how he worked with deeply embedded Level 3 resistance. At that level, people oppose the person who presents the idea, and resistance is deeper and bigger than the change at hand.

Before Bryan took over his position, his predecessors had a contentious relationship with the top enlisted man. The chief master sergeant resisted passively at first, but then began to push back with nasty memos and heated arguments. Due to his position and personal power, he was able to influence others to join in the resistance to quality.

Bryan was told to ignore him. Someone suggested, “He’s a pothole. Drive around him.” Bryan didn’t take that advice. The chief master sergeant was a well-respected influential person, and Bryan realized that the sergeant was critical to his success. He made an effort to get to know him. “We found things we both enjoyed together. We were both passionate hockey fans.” Over about a six-month period Bryan saw the relationship change. The sergeant started to become a supporter of quality.

“I started slipping in messages and asking questions. I began identifying things he was good at and showed how these linked to quality initiatives. I was able to tell him, ‘Oh, by the way, what you did was an example of quality improvement.’ And I went out of my way to recognize the positive things he did.”

Perhaps the greatest compliment came when the sergeant was retiring from service. He told Bryan, “I wish others had made the attempt to make me understand quality the way you did.” He went on to say that Bryan’s predecessors tried to train him. They had never made an investment in him.

Bryan was able to influence the sergeant; I asked whether the sergeant had influenced him in any way. He answered, “I could float things by him and get his input. If he was critical of my ideas, that made me think and refocus.”

Thanks, Bryan, for a great success story.

© 2009 Rick Maurer – Rick uses his Change without Migraines™ to advise organizations on how to lead change effectively. He is author of many books including Beyond the Wall of Resistance. Recently, he created the Change Management Open Source Project, a free resource for people interested in change in organizations. www.beyondresistance.com