Employees who resist change fight a battle they cannot win

Dear Joan:
I read your column religiously and had to reply to a recent column about a group of employees who would not give the new leader a chance. I bought a business seven years ago (we build tooling) and have made substantial changes since that time. When I first bought the business, I was pretty much held hostage by a group of old timers who had political agendas and ideals that related to larger union type shops. They had basically an "us versus them," union versus management mindset. Even though I started on the floor, worked and performed with the best of them, treated everyone like family, opened my books to them, showed them what I make and take out of the company, I sadly have to say that they continued with their agenda.

So, I did as you suggested and invited the worst to work elsewhere. It’s been tough. We are in a small town in the South and I see these people in stores and around town. I never know what to say or not to say but I know that if I hadn’t done the things I did we would not be in business today.

Our business has changed, like most others, to an industry heavy with computers. What used to be done by hand is now drawn on computers and machined on computer controlled machining centers. I would have gladly trained the employees who have left us to work with these new methods and machines. They could apply their experience and training to the new methodology but the ensuing battle would have put us out of work.

What amazes me is how few people understand if they don’t make the company money, they won’t have a job to come to. The smaller the company, the more that holds true. How can anyone even begin to train and help employees who criticize and harass other people whose focus it is to get their job done. You’re simply much better off in these cases to start with a fresh slate of good attitudes and train to get what you want.

Perhaps you could do a column on managers. We are people too. Most who have left our company will continue to blame others for their problems. The fact that they lost vacation time and are now having to be trained at other companies (where they are paid less) to do what they could have done here is, of course, my fault. I find it hard not to get an attitude of my own towards employees. The old saying, "It’s lonely at the top," holds true. Your column, along with other writings, help me to keep the faith. The biggest reward, however, is when even one of the hard cases sees the light.

Answer:
When trust is broken between management and employees, it can create deep, bitter hatred. As a new owner, it seems that you took the necessary steps to attempt to win their trust back. (Some would argue you even went too far when you shared your personal salary information.) Apparently, they weren’t going to come half way. Unfortunately, in cases like this, the negative peer group doesn’t help the situation, since cooperating with management is perceived as betrayal by the rest of their group.

The same can be said about many people today who are fighting change by getting angry and resisting the inevitable. They can’t win. Technology is here to stay and the pace is quickening. For instance, use of the Internet is doubling every 100 days, someone is buying something on-line every four seconds, and those facts will be laughable in six months. Employees, who don’t realize that their companies are fighting to stay in business, in a world that is being turned upside down, are out of touch with reality. All of us can look around at the jobs that are being transformed before our eyes. Travel agents and stockbrokers are watching their clients bypass them and go straight to the Internet. Accountants are watching small business owners buy software to do their bookkeeping. Laborers are forced to learn how to operate computers instead of machines.

If employees are fortunate to have a leader who is willing to retrain them, they need to count their blessings. Rather than wasting energy on fighting the changes, they would be wise to use that energy learning new things that will keep them marketable. In the end, they end up having to learn the very things they fought so hard to prevent. But they often learn it somewhere else for less money. Take for example the people, who don’t have degrees, but complain that their companies are only hiring degreed candidates as their peers. They complain that these upstarts are getting all the promotions. Their companies offer tuition refund but they don’t take advantage of it. In many cases, these are the same people who are completing their degrees, with their own money, after they’ve been downsized.

Like you, I feel very sad about people who become casualties of these new changes. But, ironically, many of them have seen the locomotive coming but stubbornly insisted on tying themselves to the tracks.


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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