“Karin, if we change the compliance process, we are exposing ourselves to more risk. We can’t afford another blowup,” he said.
Lowering his voice, he confided, “Besides, if we implement your idea, they won’t need me or my team.”
“Yes, they will,” Karin replied. “Just not for the bureaucratic stuff. Your team will have more time to work on innovation. That’s what we’re supposed to be doing, anyway.”
Karin wanted to streamline the compliance process, ensuring the company did everything legally required while eliminating overkill. Numerous steps above those required by law had been added in the wake of recent data leaks and public relations disasters. These cumbersome tasks were diverting much of the department’s resources away from innovation.
Karin and Martin work for a well-known financial services company. They both lead FinTech innovation teams and enjoyed a good working relationship—until now.
Martin wasn’t buying Karin’s change proposal. His fear of being made redundant got the better of him. He began to block the change in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. He continued to find yeahbuts and excuses why now is not the right time. His team’s schedules were so full they couldn’t attend the brainstorming meetings that Karin organized.
Karin grew increasingly frustrated with Martin. She forged ahead with the change on her own and shared her ideas with colleagues whenever they would listen.
Three months later, Karin and Martin got a new boss.
The new VP heard about Karin’s ideas and agreed that was the direction she wanted to take the division. Martin’s reputation as a change blocker also had not gone unnoticed. Martin was fired and his people were reassigned to other teams. Karin was asked to spearhead the change and added two new people to her team.
Why did Karin view the change as an opportunity while Martin saw it as a threat?
Several factors, including personality, experience and life situation may have played a role. In my opinion, however, the most important difference is perception. Specifically, perceived fear.
The fear we feel in the face of change has more to do with perception than with facts. Sure, sometimes things do get worse before they get better. Not every change is beneficial for everyone. But there is no denying that the collective changes in any field are positive. Despite our many problems, the world is better than it’s ever been.
Karin’s history primed her to perceive change as an opportunity. Karin held jobs in several divisions of the company. She learned to learn fast, to see problems from new perspectives, and to view doing things differently as “small experiments” on the road to improvement. She discovered along the way that setbacks are usually temporary—and that the solution that emerges after a setback is almost always better than before. For Karin, change is a new beginning, a chance to learn and expand her professional horizons. Karin has a growth mindset.
Martin’s history predisposed him to perceive change as a threat. He has worked in the same product area his entire career. Martin started as a business analyst, later became a project leader and finally head of an innovation team. He prides himself on his expertise and is happy to share his knowledge with younger colleagues. Hard-won experience has led him to believe that there is usually a “best” way of doing things. He feels you shouldn’t mess with a winning formula. Martin perceives change first and foremost as a loss—loss of experience, loss of control, loss of importance. Martin has a fixed mindset.
What’s to do?
Challenge non-supportive self-talk
The place to start adjusting our perceptions of change is our self-talk. The never-ending narrative running through our minds determines our perceived risk and can hamper our actions.
When Karin first suggested the change, Martin’s self-talk immediately kicked in: “That will never work. When it fails, I will look bad. If it does work, I will lose my job.”
This kind of self-talk leads to feelings of frustration and resignation. And it damages his relationships with colleagues.
Not only is this self-talk non-supportive, it’s just plain wrong! Extreme statements such as “it will never work” or “I will lose my job” are rarely accurate.
Learn to challenge non-supportive self-talk! See Bounce Back and Overcome Setbacks for tips on how to replace non-supportive self-talk with an accurate assessment of the situation.
Don’t stand in the way of the inevitable
A change whose time has come will be implemented, whether you like it or not. The question is: will you be in the boat or treading water while the ship sails by? Or will you be on the bridge piloting the ship? Karin’s suggestion to streamline the compliance process is just what the business needs. Even if she fails to find supporters now, sooner or later someone else will suggest the same thing.
Look around your business and ask:
- What are the weakest links in the value chain?
- What are the perennial issues that no one is talking about but should be talking about?
- What great ideas do I have to make things better?
Adopt a long-term perspective
Today’s status quo was yesterday’s radical idea. Likewise, a major change now will be common practice a few years down the road. Any perceived loss of control is temporary. The ultimate loss of control, as Martin experienced, is to remain on the dock when the ship leaves port.
The key to viewing change from a broader perspective is to actively remind yourself of what stands to be gained or lost in the long-term. Ask yourself:
- Has this kind of change happened before? What were the results six months or a year afterwards?
- Do I know someone who has gone through a similar situation? How did they cope?
- What are the long-term benefits of this change for me? Personally? Professionally?
- What will happen if I do not change?
Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Random House Publishing Group, 2006.
Popova, Maria. “Fixed vs. Growth: The Two Basic Mindsets That Shape Our Lives.” Brain Pickings (blog), January 29, 2014.
Image: RMS Queen Elizabeth, Public Domain