Transforming an organization into a culture of high employee engagement is challenging enough, but leaders have to face the reality that certain entrenched naysayers may have to leave in order for the effort to be successful.
In my first major management job I learned an important lesson about change. That lesson was that some people have no interest in change, and will do everything in their power to stop it. I learned that deeply entrenched naysayers need to either genuinely get on board or leave the organization in order to make way for positive changes.
One guy who worked for me, I’ll call him Jack, was a real downer on ideas his teammates had for making things better. He had a tremendously negative impact on his team because every time someone put out an idea he would immediately shoot it down. For some reason Jack set the tone for the team and it was not a pleasant tone. He happened to be physically bigger than the others, more experienced, and more educated.
As leaders we all run across naysayers – people who pretty much have a negative response to everything. But over the years I have learned to sort “challengers” into two categories: Barkers and Biters.
Barkers are people who care about good work and want to make a real contribution to the success of the organization, however they are frustrated when the organization resists making common sense changes. Barkers are some of your best people who, when they see change that makes sense, often quickly embrace it. They are the people that when you persuade them to join a team to fix a problem make huge contributions and do what it takes to make sure the problem is really fixed – and fixed right.
In the end, barkers are huge supporters of effective employee engagement efforts. They know that employees will become more engaged when common sense changes are implemented. So their barking has always been about the absence of common sense. Once their frustration is removed they put their energy into fixing the very problems that have long driven them (and others) crazy.
On the other hand, biters are a different lot. They are like the unsociable dog who is just itching for a fight. Their anger is barely below the surface, however it is anger not frustration. They are mad at the world and it has nothing to do with work. It has everything to do with their ”stuff.” They have an ax to grind and it is an ax that never seems to get sharpened enough to stop the biting.
I remember coaching my employee, Jack — before I finally faced the reality that he was a biter, not a barker — saying to him, “You are a tidal wave of cold water on good ideas.” When I said that, I was nearing my conclusion that the change we were trying to make couldn’t happen with Jack on the team. Jack needed to go and it was my job to make that so. And I did.
When people resist change, it’s critical we differentiate the barkers from the biters. Barkers become your best change agents, but biters need to be let out.
What are you doing about your biters?