Mitigating “pushback”: The opportunity killer

The CEO of a large company once said to me (believe it or not):

“I am in the position of least power to change this organisation. If people will not change I am unable to make them, the organisation is simply too large for me to do their jobs in a different way. I must rely on my people.”

How true this is, but do we realise it?

What’s pushback?

Anybody in a medium- to large-sized organisation will have encountered what is best referred to as “pushback”. This occurs when an individual or a group with some influence on business decisions or direction expresses doubt or even rejects outright the notion of a new approach or change to a particular issue being discussed.

We call this resistance to a change proposition pushback, and it is unfortunately all too common in many organisations.

With this in mind, how can we best implement innovation or value adding changes to our businesses?

Should we discourage pushback?

Pushback has its place and can be used as a valuable catalyst for creating open, full and frank discussion in meetings. The last thing one wants in a meeting aimed at exploring new horizons is for all to agree with no dissenting views and thus no discussion. Seldom are new initiatives enacted without some “pain” to somebody, consequently the expression of alternative views should be welcomed.

Surrounding yourself with yes-men is the ploy of weak and insecure managers that are afraid to be challenged and moreover do all they can to discredit dissenters.

The negative predisposition

Unfortunately, in many organisations there are people that simply object to everything and resist change at every turn, though such people are to some extend a dying breed. Having said some jobs in particularly that are prone to employ “status quoi steady as she goes” individuals. These people tend to be in the fields of engineering, quality, standards and production where change means risk and risk means exposure to failure. Such a mindset in these people is quite understandable, but this is not to say such thinkers still need to be able to explore and embrace change.

These days things are changing somewhat, with younger people very quick to accept new ways and new technologies, courtesy of the IT world and life in a world of constant change.

A real life scenario

Suppose a new opportunity for a product is presented to the production department and they simply reject it out of hand. “No we cannot do that, it won’t work” is the message delivered back to the boss.

The production people have stated their position and to get a different answer will now essentially require a back down and admission that they were wrong. Nobody likes to be wrong, so what now? What can the boss do to change that message?

I would suggest very little, and the more pressure the boss applies to get a different answer the more pushback is received. Furthermore, if the boss insists is can and will be done, you can be sure the production people will work very hard to show it can’t be done.

Like it or not, this is life and human nature.

What’s the solution?

Without a doubt the most effective may to bring about change and acceptance of a better way is to have the negative thinkers involved in the development of the new idea.

Run a session or meeting and lead the naysayers to the “font of discovery” and have them inspire the new thinking. People generally love their own ideas.

An alternative approach is to ask somebody for their advice. People love to give advice, this makes them feel in control, feel well respected and perhaps admired.

Ask somebody for their advice and you will immediately have them on side.

What now?

The realisation that the boss really has little power to make change comes as a surprise to most, but is a fact.

To inspire change and get “buy in” you need to embrace those that will drive the change in developing the change initiative. Get them involved in the new thinking development. This is the secret to mitigating pushback.


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