Ways to Get Back on Track

Thursday, December 30th, 2010


This is a short interview with Rick Maurer conducted by the Association for Quality Control.


by Rick Maurer

Rick Maurer, author of Beyond the Wall of Resistance, was the final speaker at our Summer Leadership Conference. In last month’s issue, he talked about the importance of avoiding resistance before it occurs. In this issue he explores what to do when you are already facing resistance to a major change.

ASC: You seem to believe that resistance is important. Why?

RM: When executives say that resistance is the major reason why changes in their organizations fail, I pay attention. I believe that knowing how to avoid resistance and work with it when it does occur is the most important change management skill.

ASC: But some of our readers are going to say, “Yeah, but that’s soft, touchy-feely stuff. We don’t have time for it.”

RM: I know, it does seem fluffy, doesn’t it? It seems like it’s something to do when you’ve got lots of time. But, that isn’t so. There are levels of resistance, of course. And “lower grade” resistance probably won’t hurt you. But, if you’re facing what I call Level 2 resistance, you’d better pay attention.

ASC: What’s Level 2 resistance?

RM: Level 2 resistance is a strong emotional reaction to the new idea. It is based on fear. When people are in Level 2, their ability to listen diminishes. When people fear that they will lose their job, lose control, or lose face, they resist. Their bodies react. Adrenaline, heart rate, and blood pressure rise. When this occurs, the normal response is flight or flight. And that’s resistance.

ASC: What do you do?

RM: Well, what you don’t do, is try to overcome the resistance. That just makes it worse. You must find a way to address the fear. For example, if people are afraid they will lose their jobs, then you’ve got to talk about that issue. The owner of Rhino Foods told his company that business was bad. He couldn’t predict when the cycle would swing up again. He said that the only way he knew how to save money quickly was to downsize. (Just the word “downsizing” can drive people into Level 2 quickly.) He went on to say that he felt bad about this and was open to ideas – as long as those ideas could cut a significant amount of cost. His staff came up with one hundred and eleven ideas.

ASC: That’s unbelievable.

RM: Not all were winners, but they were able to pull out the best ideas and implement them. And they never had to dismiss a single person. This approach kept talent in the company and built a tremendous commitment to the company.

ASC: How about an example of a time when things already have gotten bad?

RM: When GE was closing lots of plants in the 1980s, morale and productivity was down in many remaining facilities. People were scared, fearful that they would be next. The chairman, Jack Welsh told the head of HR to develop something to “work this out.” He created the Work Out, a meeting where an entire plant gets together with management to talk about what’s wrong – and come up with solutions. It’s not for people who can’t take criticism, but it can be extremely powerful.

ASC: What does the meeting look like?

RM: Most focus on a single issue. For example, everyone might be called together to talk about why quality is down, or what can be done with excessive waste in production. Managers sit on the stage, everyone sits in the audience and tells them what they think is wrong. Anyone who criticizes something must also suggest a solution. This keeps it from turning into a gripe session. Management promises to get back to people within two or three days with their plans. They don’t have to accept everything they hear, but they must acknowledge all criticisms and ideas. A champion is assigned to make sure that the ideas get carried through.

ASC: Why do you suppose this works so well?

RM: Work Out provides a forum to get issues – usually Level 2 issues – out in the open. And it gives the organization a way to take the ideas forward. Most important, it can be very powerful when employees recognize that managers listen to their ideas and act on them. This genuine show of respect for the ideas and concerns of staff can begin to break down old barriers.

ASC: I think you’ve given our readers some ideas they can use. Thank you.