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Take a Step Back

Have you ever been at a planning event or release of a new strategy and what you hoped would be enthusiasm was actually met with resistance and negativity?

It’s supposed to be an exciting time for thinking and innovation, however, for many people in the room this may represent progress when core business is struggling and issues remain unresolved; finding inspiration and excitement is hard under these conditions.

Innovation and change can threaten to break people rather than inspire them and the over-arching feeling can be resistance and negativity.

People’s ability to embrace change and be innovative depends on their current situation and the extent to which they feel acknowledged and heard. In the current environment of reduced resources teams are expected to do more with less and most of the time they will get on and do that. However, if it appears the organisation is moving on without acknowledging these issues you may come up against resistance.

In order for people to be optimistic about change and in a head space for innovation it’s vital to ensure the core business of their work is under control and not lacking, or if it is under pressure that there has been some recognition of that fact. This means the individuals in the team feel satisfied their issue is in hand- the important part is that the team feels heard not simply that the manager knows about the problem.

If people feel their current issues and struggles have been acknowledged by those higher in the organisation they are most often happy to move forward from focusing on the problem to focusing on future thinking and innovation.

Acknowledgement has two parts:

Feeling heard- the party who is struggling needs to feel the manager understands their issues. I recall once in my early twenties telling the same story three times in a row – saying exactly the same thing each time as the listener did not even give me a nod in acknowledgment of what I was saying. My friend, who was standing with me, thought “Oh no, she isn’t going to say it again is she?” Yes, embarrassingly, I did. But this is what happens when you don’t feel heard- you can start to feel like a broken record. It’s not only about being able to tell your story it’s receiving acknowledgement that you have been heard and understood.

Getting a response – the response needs to acknowledge the problem and reassure them that you, as the manager understand the problem, agree it is a problem and let them know what you are going to do about it.

It’s not enough to say, ‘Thanks for letting me know, I’ll look into it’ – there are four parts to an effective response:

  1. Reassurance that you understand what they are telling you.
  2. Acknowledge that it is not ideal and that you agree with them.
  3. Let them know what is happening or going to happen to address the issue. It’s not that important that people even know the exact details of the solution or even that you know what the solution is - just that you agree there should be one.
  4. Thank them for their ongoing commitment and passion for their work and tell them that you think they are doing great job under difficult circumstances.

Your response or lack of response has a lot to do with the trust people feel in you as the manager and/or the organisation. If there is a lot of hidden agendas and secret business the staff are going to be hesitant to contribute whereas if there is transparency in communication – even if details are not present – people will feel a greater trust and be ready for change and to contribute to the future direction of the organisation.

When you are trying to achieve organisation wide change and have a significant hierarchy of leadership in your organisational chart the idea is that you want a good flow of communication up and down the chain. If you have middle managers or team leaders who don’t feel the issues with their core business are being heard or acknowledged this is likely to weaken the communication chain. If there is a perceived lack of being heard this line manager will be aligning with the disgruntled team rather than the organisational strategy and the flow of communication and buy in to new strategies will be diminished.

Feeling heard and getting an empathetic response are all that is needed to move people from resistant to ready when it comes to change and innovation. The importance of the manager is very evident here as the conduit between the team and the organisation achieving its goals.


Lisa is a management and small business coach, speaker and author working with individuals and teams who want to get things done. email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.