Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Look at How to Teach Old Dogs New Tricks Consultant Tells Managers How to Overcome Employee Inertia. INTERVIEW

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Look at How to Teach Old Dogs New Tricks Consultant Tells Managers How to Overcome Employee Inertia. INTERVIEW

Article excerpt

EMPLOYEES do not thrive on change.

When companies have to be downsized or restructured, the buildings, telephones, and machines don't get angry and frustrated; people do.

Management consultant Jerald Jellison, who recently published "Overcoming Resistance" (Simon & Schuster, $19), has a different strategy in mind for managing change.

In a recent interview, he argued that managers with the right tools can produce orderly, incremental changes in the way their workers perform. And when change occurs steadily, companies will not fall so far behind their competitors that they require wholesale, wrenching restructuring that often leaves hundreds or thousands of employees in the street.

That theory sounds great. But if it is so simple, why don't managers make those necessary adjustments? Because employees always resist change, he says.

Dr. Jellison, a professor of psychology at the University of Southern California, says that prevailing psychological theories actually help to reinforce inertia on the part of managers and employees.

"Psychology has really misled us," he says. "It has led us to believe that people are fixed in their ways and that's the way they are going to be forever; that's a very pessimistic conclusion."

To change this unproductive attitude, managers obviously need some new approaches. Jellison has a few suggestions.

The first step, he says, is for managers to make their desire for change more concrete by lowering the "altitude" of the requests they make of employees. They have to translate up-in-the-clouds requests "down to ground level."

He gives an example: A company president couldn't understand his key managers' lack of initiative. Requesting "more initiative" again and again had failed to achieve results. So he came down a level and asked them to "generate new ideas." Then he went another level lower, asking them to come up with ideas "about the way paperwork was being handled." That was getting close. But when he requested that on the first Monday of every month, each department manager give him a written description of a new procedure being instituted to minimize paperwork, he hit "ground zero."

Once an employee grasps what the manager wants him to do, that does not mean he will do it. …

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