Change management – Millennials, metaphors and resistance

Posted on: October 10, 2017
Change management themes

These three themes – Millennials, metaphors and resistance – arose during the most recent MBL change management for professional service firms training course https://www.mblseminars.com/Outline/Tackling-Change-Management—A-Workshop-for-Professional-Practices/8417

Millennials and change management

One of the key topics of conversation was that the younger generation have a different outlook and approach which can prove challenging to management. The focus for these young folk is on skills, passion, energy and excitement in the workplace. Their need for fast and transparent progression was noted.

Typically Millennials are adaptive and possess a desire for challenge and change but prefer co-operative and consultative leadership styles to the old-school command and control models. They operate best in a network or project team environment (thankfully the professions are generally effective at matrix management) rather than hierarchies.

Communicating about change with Millennials requires attention as they prefer mobile, video and social media communication. However, they are confident about asking questions so leaders must be prepared to engage with them.

Reverse mentoring (where Millennials coach seniors) is a popular approach to promote engagement and mutual understanding. Some clients use “shadow boards” and digitally diverse Boards to bridge the gap between generations.

Delegates were urged to view the Simon Sinek video on Millennials in the workplace https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QXWNChoIluo

Metaphors for corporate culture

Employer brands are important for both attracting and retaining talent. Whilst corporate culture remains a tricky and elusive topic for many professional service firms, we found in the session that the use of metaphors helped pin-point both the strengths and weaknesses of organisational culture.

In management textbooks, common organisational metaphors include machine (planned and rolled out from the top), organism (information presented to individuals who decide what to do) and political systems (a powerful group in leadership). Less common metaphors include the brain and psychic prisons. We also considered the different models of change promoted by the behaviourist, cognitive, psychodynamic and humanist approaches in psychology which provided food for thought on sticks and carrots.

Some of the delegates developed metaphors that proved particularly insightful including a cactus, a steam engine, a vintage car and a battle-weary troop. Ideas for change support programmes and new business models emerged from this exercise – particularly with regards to the delicate balance between autonomy and alignment.

Resistance to change

During the session, we used tools such as Stakeholder Analysis and Force Field Analysis to analyse resistance to change and explored various tools for engagement, persuasion, buy-in and reward alignment.

In May 2017, there was an article in Harvard Business Review (HBR) on overcoming resistance to change by Sally Blount and Shana Caroll where the authors report that research shows 50-75% of all change efforts fail.

They suggest that the first challenge is to identify the source of resistance and to understand the perspective of the resistors. They identify the main reasons for resistance as: disagreement on substantive grounds with the proposed change, the need for respect and feeling rushed. This effectively distinguishes between rational and emotional resistance to change. Their solution in all cases is to talk and listen to the resistors bearing in mind the following ground rules:

  • Forget efficiency (use face-to-face communication)
  • Focus on listening (take less than 20% of the air-time and repeat back what you hear)
  • Be open to change yourself (adopt a genuinely open attitude)
  • Have multiple conversations (at least two conversations are required with at least two days between them – and reflect back what you have heard and how this will change your plans)

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