This is my final post about a conversation I had with some people at a recent MEP Innovation Conference. I asked a group of fellow ConTech heads if they have any ideas for what to do with employees who refuse to adopt a new process. The answers I got generally fell into one of three categories. The first response was that people need to be trained. The second response was that you need to show people that your solution works. The third common response was darker.
You need to fire them. Here’s my rebuttal:
OK, I’ll elaborate. First I’ll give my fellow conference-goers who were generous enough to take the time to answer my question the benefit of the doubt that they aren’t the Galactic Empire just ruthlessly choking out employees who resist. I’m oversimplifying when I say that their response was simply, “Fire them!” These people went on to explain that employees with that attitude are often detrimental to positive culture and that resisting change can be a symptom of a bigger issue with that person. I completely understand and don’t believe they’re just using fear as a motivation at their companies…or at least I hope they’re not.
In order for me to fire someone who won’t adopt a new process we’ll have to pretend that I’m actually in a position where firing someone is an option, which I’m not. It doesn’t matter. I still wouldn’t fire anyone simply because they refuse to adopt a process or a software solution that I’m trying to implement. Many of you reading this are probably thinking, “Well, you just answered your own question right there. If you’re not going to fire people like that you’ll always have dissension.” You might be right and that would make everything I write beyond this moment pointless.
In my experience many of the people who resist the kind of change I try to implement are long time veterans of the construction industry. Guys who have spent decades working hard for the company, perfecting their craft, and forming relationships with co-workers, customers, and other contractors on countless jobs. Guys who can’t stand people like me with the audacity to tell them that I know a better way for them to get their job done. I refuse to believe that the best solution for the company is to tell those employees, “You have a bad attitude. You’re out.” Don’t get me wrong, there have been times when that sounds appealing, but only if I was selfish, myopic, and arrogant as hell.
I’m not a religious person, but there’s a Bible verse that’s always stood out in my mind and it goes something like this: “You hypocrite! First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Bet you didn’t think I was going to go all “Gospel according to Matthew” on your ass, did you? I have a lot of questions about why there’s a log in someone’s eye instead of some other more realistic object, but I get the point. I translate that verse as we need to deal with the person in the mirror before we point the finger at others. If I get so frustrated with someone that I think, “Man, I wish the company would just fire him/her,” I better make damn sure I’m doing everything correctly. I better have made every single effort to make him/her see the value in what I’m trying to implement and make it as easy for them as possible. If I’m being honest with myself the answer is almost always that I have not done that. I got frustrated. It was taking too long and I gave up.
The people who put up the most resistance often have a point. They can offer you a perspective that you may not have considered. They frequently feel that nobody has considered their opinion and appreciate someone taking the time to sit down with them and have a conversation about it. They absolutely provide some of the most rewarding moments as a trainer when you get them to see value and persuade them to your point of view. Believe me, I wish everyone just adopted everything I’ve tried to push on them without resistance and I appreciate those who put that much trust in me. There’s extra satisfaction in taking someone who told you to “go pound sand” (or much worse) and getting them to come around.
A couple weeks ago I got a thoughtful response to one of my posts from Darren Young which I appreciated greatly. (Thanks, Darren!) Among his insightful comments he said, “I’ve rarely ever found that people are just jerks.” I wholeheartedly agree. 25 years in the industry and I’ve come across very few. I’m sure employees exist who are so cancerous to culture that they can singlehandedly bring down an initiative. The job of deciding whether the negatives outweigh the positives with that person fall on their manager – not the construction technologist or the IT guy or the project scheduler. We should stick to doing our best to implement solutions. I’m trying to make people’s jobs more rewarding, not get them fired.
So after all of this I’ve come to a conclusion. It’s not terribly original, it’s probably not what you want to hear, and it’s certainly not the answer I was looking for. I was looking for a shortcut. Someone to tell me, “We tried this and it works every time.” The conclusion is that there is no shortcut. If you need to roll something out to 400 people, then you need to do your best to get face-to-face with 400 people with a combination of everything I wrote about in the first two posts. Train them any way possible. Some prefer to watch a YouTube video and they’ll be set, but others need that one-on-one attention. Prove to them that the solution you’re trying to implement is going to make their lives easier. Hear them out. Have a conversation. Everyone is different. There’s no one answer to this. Hopefully you have a reliable, dedicated team that can help balance the workload so you’re not doing all of the training yourself. Be humble enough to incorporate other people’s good ideas when they have them and give them the credit they deserve. If you’re wrong, admit that you’re wrong. Check your ego at the door. Nobody has ever implemented something perfectly on the first try. Once you’ve done all that, continue to reinforce and you wait. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years in some cases. Nothing worthwhile is gained without sacrifice.