The hardest nut to crack – the resistant manager

Picture of some nutcrackers. Taken by ?Raul654...
Picture of some nutcrackers. Taken by ?Raul654 on December 25, 2004. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whatever business you are running, you will eventually run into the hardest nut to crack – a manager who is pickled in old ways, deeply invested in the status quo and heavily supported by the insidious political subsystem.

Unless you are the owner of the business, your head could be on the block unless you handle the resistor or resistors effectively. Suddenly without wanting it you are reluctantly thrust into the role of the “change agent”. You are the one who is going to have to sell the change to the hard-core resistor.

So how are you going to handle the resisting manager? What can you do?

You can try to wish your problem away. But it’s not going to work. Top management will want progress reports. One of the first things you need to understand is inertia. This is where the manager clings rigidly to the status quo even when they know that the existing state of affairs is not doing well. How do you break this inertia? You need to properly prepare the manager for change by giving him or her as much information as possible about the change whether it involves changes in product, process, procedures or machinery. If you don’t provide information all that’s going to happen is the manager will get information from the grapevine which is an unreliable though swift form of communication channel.

People are motivated by three psychological needs – autonomy, relatedness, and competence, according to a consultant, Susan Fowler. If the change that you are introducing or being told to introduce affects any one of these psychological needs you are going to have to go out of your way to design the change process to address these needs. Say, for example, a senior manager has had decentralised decision-making and now has to fit in with a centralised decision-making structure, there will be loss of autonomy. You then have to emphasise the areas where the manager will be autonomous. Relationships within groups and with outside groups are important. So you need to understand how relationships will be impacted by the change. Competence is another important consideration – people have invested years of their experience in building up a high level of skill, knowledge and judgement and may resist change. Somehow you need to ensure that the change complements or adds to the manager’s existing competence rather than being seen to make it obsolete.

Too often change programmes are concocted with a tiny group, a handful of so-called “trusted” colleagues and the change programme has little or no input from other levels. Participation in a proposed change is important. If you from the start can get the “resistant” manager involved and provide him or her with a sense of influence in the change process, you may stand a chance of winning him or her around. As the authors of a paper on resistance say, “People are more likely to support what they helped to create.”

If you are in a business where the political system is reluctant to act on managers who are defiant resistors of change, your change efforts might progress over months or even up to a year long. The hard-core resistant manager is going to drive you nuts, especially if you’re every attempt at change fails. But if you have shown that you have tried and have evidence for that, you may be lucky enough to escape being scalped, put in a corporate dungeon or being booted out. Before that happens it might be worthwhile to bring in an outsider, a consultant if you will, that can provide an independent and unbiased assessment of the manager. If the person doesn’t fit with the new programme and culture, it may be time to ask him or her to leave. For the hard nut resistor who makes the change however painful they need to be recognised and rewarded.

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