How to Transform Resistance to Resilience - Mentora Institute

How to Transform Resistance to Resilience

How far do you believe your people can transform amidst the rapidly evolving conditions of today’s world — with new systems, processes, and ways of working emerging at an astonishing speed?

Joe’s Journey: A Tale of Transformation

This story by Tom Wallace was shared by Kotter & Cohen in their book, “The Heart of Change: Real-Life Stories of How People Change Their Organizations”. 

There was one superintendent in our company, Joe, who was considered so “old school” that people had warned me he would never change his ways. He had been with the company for over twenty years and he was very proud of our products. Whenever a customer would want a change in the product or how we made it, this man would get bent out of shape. He felt we were giving people a great product and that they were too picky. When someone would suggest something, he would respond in one of two ways: We tried it and it didn’t work, or we thought about it and decided not to try it.

It seemed to me he was basically a good man, a talented man, and a man with a lot of valuable experience who was stuck in an old paradigm. He just couldn’t see anything from the customer’s point of view. Once, it became so tense that one of our best customers said that we needed to replace Joe. I didn’t like the idea of terminating an employee who probably thought he was protecting the company. So I thought about it and then said to the customer, “Let’s do something different which might help both of us.” We asked them if Joe could go to work for their company for six months at our expense. He would work at a different place and have a different boss. To help make this happen, we agreed to keep paying his salary. We further said that after six months we would bring him back into our company as a customer representative, inspecting our products specifically for that customer. This would be a different job than he had before, but an important job. The idea was to convert the guy from being an obstacle for others into someone who would actively help us.

Joe’s boss thought the plan wouldn’t work — may have even thought it was nuts — but he agreed to go along with it. Joe was at first also very reluctant to accept the idea. “I have my own job to do and I don’t want to do something else.” I told him we really needed his expertise so that he could tell us what was going on when our tankers arrived at the customer’s facility. But he was a real hard rock. He didn’t want any part of this plan. So we had his boss tell him that he couldn’t have his existing job anymore, that he could take our offer or leave.

Off he went into a different world. His new job was to be a quality inspector at the customer’s plant. I don’t know how difficult it was on him at first, but he had to change to survive. He had to learn a new job, a new company, and how to look at our products from that customer’s point of view. If he didn’t, he failed. Well, he didn’t want to fail, so he tried to do the new job. And when he started really looking, he found that an old product of ours, which he thought was very good, didn’t meet the customer’s needs. He found that they bought this product because they didn’t have an alternative and switching would be costly. He found that another product, which he also thought was very high-quality, was not seen by the customer that way because of how they needed to use it. And he found that our delivery on another product created additional problems. So then he came back to us saying “This is no good. You don’t understand that by doing this, you are hurting the customer. We’ve got to change or we risk losing their business.”

Joe ended up being the best inspector the customer had ever had. They loved him. When he came back to us he was a new man. The “old school” barrier, the change resistor, became one of our best managers. I suppose there are many people that you can’t do much with, or people that you can’t afford the expense of doing much with. But I think you need to be very careful when you hear people saying that so-and-so is hopeless. It might be true, or it might not.

Embracing Transformation

Joe’s story of change is a powerful reminder to not prematurely give up on employees who may initially resist change or seem stuck in their ways. It invites us to reconsider the assumptions we may have about our people and embrace an approach to leadership that is patient, empathetic, and strategic — one that recognizes the extraordinary capacity for growth and change in even the most challenging employees. By investing in their development and creating the right conditions for them to thrive, we can help them unleash untapped potential so that they become valuable assets for the organization.

At Mentora, we have helped our client executives shift their mindsets — from victim to empowered, from fixed to growth, from conflict-phobic to collaborative — to generate significant shifts in their performance, like Joe did in the example above. Change is best accomplished from the inside-out, and our flagship program, Inner Mastery Outer Impact, coaches people on how to approach leadership moments with authenticity and agility by activating the 5 Core Energies of Purpose, Wisdom, Love, Growth, and Self-realization in themselves and their team.

“Leading from my Inner Core means I do not have to struggle anymore in searching for different tools, frameworks, concepts, or philosophy. Instead, I really need to activate my inner core and then use the energy-actions to express it in daily life.” 

– Manager, SAP