Dealing with a Change-Resistant Manager
I once had a manager named Todd who was the nicest guy in the world. Everybody liked Todd. He was easy to work for and very supportive. Only one thing: Todd was averse to change. His preferred way of doing things was to do them exactly as they’d always been done. Whenever we came up with a way to improve our processes or the way we worked with customers, he was ready with a reason why we couldn’t, shouldn’t, and wouldn’t act on the idea.
One day, I had an idea that I thought could save both us and our customers a chunk of time. I wrote it up in an email to Todd, with a copy to Brent, Todd’s manager. Brent, mind you, was just the opposite of Todd. He thrived on change and was always open to at least considering new possibilities. Before Todd had time to nix the idea, Brent read my email and liked what I was proposing. He went to Todd and said, “Great idea. Let’s move on it.” Todd had no choice but to direct us to proceed.
It had been obvious all along that Todd and Brent had different personalities, but this experience really emphasized the differences in their receptiveness to change. I came to appreciate that with almost any change, whether a trivial adjustment in procedures or a large-scale organizational change, people will vary in their receptiveness to it.
What I didn’t appreciate until much later was that we may have had other options for gaining Todd’s support for our ideas. For example, we might have summoned help from colleagues who liked our ideas and whom Todd respected and would listen to. We might have packaged our ideas in a way that would have made Todd look especially good to Brent—or helped Todd make Brent look especially good to his higher-ups. We might have proposed a mini-prototype that we could have undone, with no one the wiser, if the results weren’t favorable.
One of my teammates even proposed that we make Todd look so good that he gets promoted into a position elsewhere in the company and we get a new manager who’s more open to trying new things. That, we quickly concluded, was a plan with potentially serious unintended consequences. Even if we could have actually made it happen, the last thing we wanted was a manager who relished change but was otherwise a bad boss. That was a change we unanimously agreed we didn’t want!