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Ask Skip: How Do I Deal With Employees Resistant to Change?

All Ask Skip Questions that appear in this blog are actual questions submitted to me directly from blog subscribers or other inquiries that come in through the main website or via my Social Media pages on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. Feel free to submit your own “Leadership, Teamwork or Workplace Communication”question here!


This question is becoming more common in recent years as both globalization and greater local competition is causing a shift in business models in many industries to maintain viability.

Whether an organization is in need of changing its business model or not, performance management must always be a focus if a competitive edge is going to be maintained.

But, when a business model change requires a significant shift in the job descriptions and performance expectations of employees who have been with the organization for a long time and came to the organization based on job requirements that must adapt to a changing environment, it is especially important to have a process to evaluate personnel and maneuver through the change process.

Below is a model you can apply that will allow you to place your people in categories that can provide a strategy for addressing issues in a systematic way:

The personnel going through the change initiative in your organization are going to fall in to one of four categories, which are represented in the double-axis chart above.

Type 1 (Upper Left):
This individual has both a willing attitude and the personality and skill level necessary to make the adjustment and successfully adapt to the new job description and performance expectations. With this person you can just UNLEASH them to take action by giving them their marching orders and putting in a performance management process that will allow you to monitor their progress.

Type 2 (Upper Right):
This individual has both a willing attitude but does not have the personality and skill level necessary to make the adjustment and successfully adapt to the new job description and performance expectations. Since often attitude and willingness can be 80% of a person’s success, this person is worth investing time and energy in and is probably coachable. With this team member it is recommended to invest resources to COACH/TRAIN them for the opportunity to meet the new job expectations and see if they can continue to be a valuable contributor (Understand that the individual may or may not be able to meet the new performance standards but because they have the right attitude and have been a valued employee in the past, they are worth investing in to give them an opportunity. At some point they may become a Type 4 just because of their abilities and capabilities).

Type 3 (Lower Left):
Based on an evaluation of the person’s past performance and their personality and skill sets you believe the person has the capability of making the change successfully, but they have a resistant attitude and are initially unwilling to make the effort. With this team member it is recommended you invest time and energy in trying to INFLUENCE/COUNSEL them to see the value in making the change. and stepping up to the new job expectations. This can be done by pointing out both the positive natural consequences of the potential when they embrace the new job expectations and parameters, combined with what could be the natural and imposed negative consequences if they continue to be resistant.

Type 4 (Lower Right):
Based on an evaluation of the person’s past performance and their personality and skill sets you do not believe the person has the capability of making the change successfully, and they have a resistant attitude and are unwilling to make the effort. With this team member it is recommended you begin to find a strategy to move this individual out of the organization respectfully and compassionately as soon as possible (FIRE/RETIRE). This must be done in accordance with the employment laws in your local area and it is recommended you consult with an employment attorney to make sure you do it right and limit your legal exposure.

Hopefully this model can give you a framework in which to evaluate your team members so you can make decisions that will allow for the successful transition into the future.

If anyone reading this is going through a ‘change’ initiative and would like to assess their situation to identify specific strategies to move forward most effectively, click here to schedule a complimentary Championship Leadership Strategy Session.

’til next time, make it a great day!

skip weisman, helping leaders motivate employees to improve organizational performance

If you have an issue you are dealing with in leading your team and/or organization that you would like answered in my “Ask Skip” column, click here to submit your own “Leadership, Teamwork or Workplace Communication” question here and you might just see your question answered here in the coming weeks. I also promise to reply directly so that you get the help you need when you need it.

There are 4 comments. Add yours.

  1. The reality is that all businesses remain in dynamic change. Otherwise they would sooner or later waste away on the vine. Similarly employees need to grow to keep their careers fresh. Skip’s grid is a quick way to assess the capabilities and willingness of long standing employees to grow with the new business model of the firm. Investing in training and coaching for those employees who are ready and able to change is a much better strategy than just cleaning the decks. You gain the renewed commitment of employees who have served well in the past. Gordon McAleer, McAleer and Associates

  2. Gordon,
    I’m pleased you liked my model above, and am pleased you agree that developing a “training and coaching strategy is better than cleaning out desks.” Although as I stated, as you are well aware, some people are just not capable of stepping up to new expectations and skills and at some point a decision has to be made on the best approach to a fair and compassionate transition.

  3. Adam Birnbaum

    I agree that teaching and coaching is a preferred preliminary step then just forcing some to leave. However, the individual must be willing to embrace chance versus simply trying to keep their job. Investing in someone who still is not ready to adapt to the organization’s evolution might as well be examined for possibly being placed in the Type 4 quadrant to provide an opportunity for those wiling to change. These are the individuals who will provide value to the organization and, ultimately, help themselves in the long run.

  4. Skip Weisman, Workplace Communication Expert

    Adam,
    Thanks for stopping by and being inspired to leave a comment. You are absolutely right, and that’s my hope for the double-axis chart I created above. I’m hoping organizational leaders challenged with assessing their team during a change process can use this as a guide to evaluate individuals and develop a strategy that will serve both the organization and all the individuals at the highest level. Some of the decisions that have to made regarding individual team members and the conversations that will go with those decisions will, no doubt be difficult, but are necessary part of the process.

    Thanks, again for your comments and adding value to the conversation.
    Skip

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