What attracts me to a career in change is ironically the same thing that has the power to block my engagement with my stakeholders. At work, I like things to be new and different. I am curious, excited and willing to try new ways of working.
In the words of Professor Carol Dweck, I have a growth mindset. This means thinking of change as an opportunity to learn and develop. The opposite of this is a fixed mindset which is where we believe that how we do things, must remain stable, and should not be changed.
When we are trying to implement change at work, we can feel that those with a fixed mindset our blocking our progress. They do not volunteer to change, so we try to impose the change upon them, and they become even more resistant to the new ideas.
Instead, we need to tap into an appreciation of their fixed mindset, as we all experience this at times. By understanding why someone is pushing against the change, we can develop strategies to enable them to adopt new ways of working.
At the heart of this is empathy, which is being able to appreciate the views and perspectives of others. For one of my training courses I developed this activity to help those with a growth mindset to understand the fixed mindset:
Think of a situation where you have a fixed mindset, so you can appreciate this viewpoint. For example, one area where I am closed to new ideas is my daily schedule. I am a morning person and I get up early and am busy straight away. By the time I start my first meeting at 9am I have already been developing new course ideas for 3 hours. To get up early I enjoy going to bed by 23.00.
I’m currently working in a very hot country, where temperatures this week have hit the 40s this has challenged my strict daily schedule. I cannot work until 20.00 and then relax. By 18.00 I’m exhausted by the heat and I need to rest. I become more energised by 21.00 until about 1.00 in the morning.
It makes sense to rest in the early evening and use the cooler later evening to do things. Trying to maintain my usual London schedule in a different country with different weather is madness.
Recognise what the fixed mindset feels like. In my example, my “fixed mindset” means that I see any changes to my current routine as a worse way of doing things. I appear to be operating under the assumption that what I have now is the optimal way of working. Anything different is a loss – it threatens my ability to get my work done, and my ability to manage my busy household.
I have closed my mind to the possibilities that different timings will make me more resilient and more able to get things done.
Use your understanding of the fixed mindset to appreciate that resistance to change is often a desire to “stick with what we know” rather than being “against the change”.
Once we have this understanding, we can provide support by showing how the change builds on what we already know. Highlight all the things that will remain the same, don’t just describe everything that is new and different.
In my case, I need to remind myself that I can still do the work I want to do, and I can still spend time with my family, but in a different way. Instead of being work, family time then rest, I can mix things up. I can do a chunk of work, have some family time and some rest, then some work, more family time and then rest again.
All that has changed is when I do things, the things I do remain the same. This is so often true of the changes we are implementing at work – a new system means entering different data – but still entering data. A new process means doing different things – but still serving the customer and working with the same colleagues.
Try this empathetic approach, find your “fixed mindset” and try changing it to appreciate the leap we ask others to make when we are implementing change.