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Understanding Your Operators Resistance to Change

How many times have you heard the phrase, “I’ve been doing this for over 20 years and this hasn’t been an issue before” Or “What makes you think we need to change this now?” I think those phrases are code words that could touch on some underlying issues including:

  1. Fear of change.  This fear can be twofold: what I have been doing all these years has been wrong so now I have to change or what I thought was secure is now changing leading potentially to some period of uncertainty.  Preparing employees for change can help them overcome this fear.  I have conducted change management seminars to help management teams adjust to shifts in the workplace.  But, I also know that change gets easier the more it is experienced. So, if you are sensing resistance from your team, you might want to make some small changes which can help your operators adapt to an ever-changing work place. Or, if a large change is planned, take the time to train your operators on why change is necessary along with suggestions on how to manage the stress of change.
  2. Mistrust.  Most long-term employees have been doing the same thing for many years and now, you are asking them to change. Questions I have heard include: Why do you all of sudden think that I need to make a change?What is your motivation for making me change?  Are you are trying to make yourself look good and me look bad? Operators, especially long timers, are observant.  If they sense that management isn’t being honest with them, they will fight the changes that are being implemented.  An attitude of open, honest and consistent communication will go a long way towards overcoming mistrust.
  3. Prejudice.  After a certain amount of time, adults will develop an attitude towards an individual or group of individuals which will frame their thinking.  These prejudices can impact an adult’s willingness to adopt new ideas. As a young engineer, I heard over and over again, typically in a sarcastic tone, “Oh, the engineer is here to tell us what we are doing wrong.” In order to overcome these prejudices, I spent time listening to the operators, asking for their input and implementing some of their ideas.  Yes, it took time, but, eventually, I found these operators much more willing to work with me. However, these prejudices won’t go away overnight and require a willingness from all parties to work together and make sure each side is being heard and understood.

As you approach training of your workforce, it is important to keep these potential issues in mind.  Put yourself in your employee’s place and think about the best approach to introducing new methods and concepts. The more time that is spent developing the training and addressing some of the underlying concerns, the greater the impact the training can have on your workforce.

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