How to change the minds of experienced professionals

Have you ever suggested what you considered to be a minor change to an experienced professional, only to watch them go ballistic? Somehow not everyone likes changes to the way they work – not even if you leave out words like “change”, “improve”, or “different”.

In this post I’ll show you how you could handle this kind of situation – by sharing some experiences from when I did an archiving project.

One common mistake when introducing a change to experienced professionals

You forgot it’s a change to someone’s work – a big deal for them.

How to help experience professionals change

Change: where to stop, how to go forward?

Just because you know what needs to be done doesn’t mean everyone else knows about your plan, or agrees. You’re going to have to convince them no matter what their manager has told you.

Our team’s project goal was to structure and clean out the team archives. The biggest bunch of paper was kept by someone who didn’t care what his manager thought. A previous undiplomatic attempt to clean things up had not improved his temper.

Why do people react so negatively to change?

People build a set of actions that they know will work most of the time. It’s called experience. Telling them to change is like yanking the chair out from under them. I wrote about the way change projects can go wrong in an earlier post.

In my experience, a lot of resistance comes from people who are very much involved. They have made it their personal responsibility to safeguard certain knowledge.

It’s just a set of procedures. What’s so hard about following rules?

Maybe you feel you’re only following the (new) rules. But rules aren’t people.

Experienced professionals know that many new rules and projects will go away after a while, leaving things pretty much the way they were with a few minor tweaks. If you make a lot of noise, some people will wait for you to leave and for the dust to settle after your exit.

Back to the archives: I knew our objectives. And then I let an individual employee get away with about half a dozen exceptions to our rules. Why? Because I needed the person’s cooperation and even goodwill. That’s why.

Importantly, I didn’t break or even bend any rules. I just:

  1. made sure to ‘weed’ the files as lightly as possible, so anyone could reconstruct the process that had produced an important final document.
  2. stressed the potential importance of the files so we’d have to keep them secure for longer. Within that time those files would probably be digitized, and kept for ever. If not, the ‘keeper of the keys’ would be retired before anything happened. Even he could agree that he wouldn’t be guarding the archives past the age of 70.
  3. personally guaranteed to our seasoned professional he’d be able to access the files whenever he asked to.

How do you convince experienced professionals who don’t want change?

Convincing experienced, critical, ‘difficult’ professionals is the only way to move forward without being pushed back in ways you never anticipated. For this you need to understand the role a person sees him/herself in.

For best results, leave people’s professional identity intact.

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2 thoughts on “How to change the minds of experienced professionals

  1. People DO so often react negatively to change, yes. It’s so weird. I don’t quite get why. Change is refreshing, new, sometimes challenging.

    This was a great article. 🙂

    • Change is great if you feel “the only way is up”. But if you’re not sure if or how you can deal with change, or with yet another task to add to your list… Maybe less so.

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