Coach's Corner

A selection from frequently–asked questions

Dear Coach,

I was very excited when I was asked to lead a special project on cross training and knowledge sharing. In a short time though I learned that the majority of people who could be involved are apathetic to say the least and some even tell me it’s a losing proposition. These people are just focused on their own jobs and show no interest in doing anything beyond that. What can I do to get them to change when they don’t see the value?


There are a couple of red flags in your brief description – the ‘special’ project terminology and the statement that some consider it a ‘losing proposition’. Could it be that this initiative is so remote from the present and accepted culture of the organization that no one can see how it connects with reality?

Why is this special project being introduced? What is the image or profile that it creates when compared to what is already considered common practice? Is it clear and compelling in terms of the benefits it will produce? I suspect that the answers are far from obvious - in the minds of your people at least.

There’s a real danger here as you approach the challenge. The uncertainty or even confusion that is causing people to resist getting onboard should not lead you to believe that they are simply apathetic or dismissive; maybe they just do not see a reason to jump in when there are few or no benefits. To ascribe the problem to either attitudes or character deficiencies within the people is unhelpful; and may cause you to use compulsion or manipulation to achieve your ends – both are ‘thin ice’!

The current reality appears to be that the culture of the organization is not receptive to an initiative such as this. Why not? There are some significant advantages and benefits that I’m sure are obvious to everyone, but there could well be some concurrent obstacles or restraints that outweigh these benefits. What are these?

Some structure in our consideration would be useful, so let’s look at two sources of resistance to change and over three levels;

Sources >>>
Individual level
Group level
Organization level
Will Power (Motivation)
Pleasure or Pain?
Peer Pressure
Incentives or Sanctions
Way Power (Ability)
Skill Sets / Standards
Demonstrations / Reinforcers
Facilities / Convenience


The problem likely does not fall into just one of these source areas but into several. Our first task is to discover the influence that each of the sources may be having on the individual behavioral change we’re seeking and to discover why the current culture is perhaps more aligned with resisting the change than in supporting it.

Begin with the individuals and enquire from each in turn what the will power and way power issues might be. Listen to learn, to gather fresh insights, rather than to validate or assess opinions, and you may well learn that there’s a shortfall in either or both areas. You may also gain some valuable insights from the Comment article that follows this item.

Assuming these shortfall issues can be rectified or realigned to support change at the individual or personal level, you’ll need to go a step further and discover how to set up appropriate peer pressures – through designating ‘heroes’ and selecting ‘myths’ that support the changes (see the lead article in this issue).

Next, and please don’t stop here even if your efforts are paying off already, you must enshrine the new behaviors within the organization’s practices, facilities and infrastructure. This may mean re-engineering incentives or removing sanctions that affect will power / motivation adversely (but not obviously) and it could also require you to build different resources, tools and/or cues (reminders) to support the new behaviors.

What we are attempting to do here is change behaviors and this means changing perspectives and perceptions (again, please see the lead article). Whatever exists right now is the direct product of multiple factors that are loosely described as current culture – the keel of the organizational sailboat. To offset this, you will need to counter and influence it in multiple ways too; if you stop short, the change initiative will probably fail.

So, above all you will need complete, coherent and cohesive action for success. All changes being introduced will need to be aligned in the new direction; and when this is done, fully and completely, success will follow in short order.

I hope this helps.