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Work with the Willing: Two Time-Saving Tips for Leaders That Work

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By Cy Wakeman
 on June 5, 2018

Reflect back on your work week. Which employees did you spend the most time and energy on?

Your highly accountable, results-driven employees or the members of your team who are barely scraping by? It may seem that you should focus most on the ones falling behind, to help them, coach them, and bring them up to speed. However, and this may surprise you, spending precious effort and energy on the unwilling is a waste of time.

Who is an Unwilling Employee?

Let’s start from the beginning. What do I mean when I say unwilling? There are a few clues that point out an unwilling employee.

Unwillingness often begins with an employee popping their head in our office with, “Got a minute?” And, before we know it, we check our clock only to discover we’ve just lost 45 minutes of our day listening to reasons, stories, and excuses about why things can’t be done.

Reality check: A typical leader spends an extra 80 hours a year negotiating with resistant employees, with only a 3% chance of converting them into employees willing and able to do their jobs despite difficult circumstances.

We may hear clue statements from resistant employees like, “You’ve never told me this before,” or “This is not the way things used to be,” or “This is going to change again tomorrow anyway.”  These subtle statements are attempts to resist certain projects and excuse the employee’s unwillingness to succeed. It’s an attempt to argue with the leader and get a quick ego massage. And, if you respond by trying to gain acceptance, it leads to more time and energy wasted.

Instead of entertaining a well-meaning argument about “who’s right?” in an attempt to win over a resistor, here are two ways to upcycle the 80 hours per year we spend trying to win over someone in a state of resistance.

Tip 1: Stop Judging. Start Helping.

The reason many resistance statements catch us off guard is that they contain a shred of truth. We may not have brought this issue up before; the policy will likely change again soon and yes – this is not the way things used to be around the office. Instead of responding with defense, you can bypass the ego in these statements by letting them know, “you’re right.”

“You are right, I missed an opportunity to bring this up sooner. I’m glad we’re talking about it now.”

“You are right, this policy may change again soon. Here’s what we should work on today to bring value.”

“You are right, this isn’t the way things used to be! How can you bring your expertise to help us solve for the future?”

When you’re not on the defensive, you open the conversation to focus on what’s possible, which helps everyone move forward.

Tip 2: Work with the Willing

There’s a prerequisite to making behavioral change work—it’s called willingness. So often leaders continue to use hope as a strategy with employees that have told you by their actions that they’re unwilling. Instead of believing their actions, leaders simply delegate work around them and dream they’ll get willing and on board. When that strategy fails, a leader will justify their actions with, “Well, we have to deal with this behavior because there’s a talent shortage out there.”

Test for Willingness

So how can you tell if someone is willing or resistant? You can ask. Here’s some great questions that will help:

  • Now that you’re aware of what’s needed, what’s your level of willingness to get skilled in this area as a professional?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, where do you think you are? And if the rating is low, what’s your plan to become more willing?
  • If you’re not on board, what’s your plan to transition out of the organization?

Be very intentional about where, and to whom, you give your attention. When you work with a group of willing people you’ll start to get results that may turn the rest of your team into believers. A wake-up call in our job as a leader is to make people aware of the business realities, opportunities, and challenges, and then to call people up to greatness to succeed in spite of those realities.

Change isn’t hard

Leaders spend tremendous energy managing poor employee attitudes about things that can’t be changed and cajoling for buy-in (which shouldn’t be optional) instead of focusing energy on creating the future.

We’ve allowed the thought that “change is hard” to remain unchecked in our thinking. In fact, research shows us that change is only hard for the unready.  And yet, we try and bring along people in resistance by falling back on conventional change management techniques that attempt to outwit resistance and soften the blow with extra time and explanations. Folks, this simply doesn’t work. Change management philosophy, rooted in passivity and transaction, has outlived whatever usefulness it ever had.

I hope you join me at the next Vision Event on June 25 in Chicago. I’ll challenge your thinking on a few more assumptions we’ve made about change and provide you with a framework to work with the willing and create a transformation in your organization – one that shifts energy away from “why we can’t” and into “how we can.”

Cy Wakeman, is a dynamic international keynote speaker, business consultant, New York Times bestselling author, and global thought leader with over 25 years experience cultivating a revolutionary new approach to leadership. Grounded in reality, Wakeman’s philosophy has helped organizations and individuals all over the world learn to ditch the drama and turn excuses into results. Cy is the keynote speaker at our upcoming Vision 2018 conferences in Philadelphia, and Chicago.