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When a Key Person Won't Adapt to Change

written by: Nan Nan Liu • edited by: Ginny Edwards • updated: 10/10/2011

Are you frustrated because a key player on the team won't adapt to change? Don't worry. There are ways to make things work. When someone opposes your leadership, extra communication with the person always makes the situation better.

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    A Frustrating Situation

    shout Nothing feels more frustrating than dealing with a team member who refuses to adapt to change, especially if this person plays a key role on the project. In addition to the hard job of implementing change, you now have to deal with difficult personalities.

    While changing someone's mind is hard to do, it is achievable by extra effort and communication. Sometimes, you just have to gain a deeper understanding of the person and the problem.

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    When Change Is Imminent

    Every project has the potential to face change. Events such as introducing new technology or reconstructing an organization happen all the time, and they alter the way PM’s manage projects. A methodology that works perfectly right now may become outdated the next week.

    At some point in your career as a project manager, you have to introduce change to your team. Whether you bring in new team members or new tools to use, you cannot avoid the transitions that will come. How you deal with the situation, then, tests your skill as a project manager.

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    Why Some People Won’t Change

    While everyone knows that change is often necessary, team members oppose to it for different reasons.

    Some may not agree with it. For example, if you introduce a new procedure that adds complications to an already burdensome process, some people might see the addition as extra work and a waste of time.

    Some team members may feel uneasy about change. They are so used to the way things currently work that new ideas disrupt their comfort levels. When people feel uncomfortable, they normally act out.

    Still, others may just be difficult to work with. These types of people like attention and often abuse the fact that they are key players.

    No matter what reasons they have, you still have a job to do as a project manager, and your job is to ensure that mandatory changes come through. So if someone has given you a hard time, you need to work with the person, and start by finding out why.

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    The Person Has a Valid Reason

    As a key player and a valued team member, this person has most likely earned respect and trust from others. In other words, he is not normally the trouble-making type. So when this team member opposes change and behaves out of the ordinary, he might have a valid reason.

    In this case, talk to him in private and try to find out why he feels badly about the decision. Maybe the new change puts extra work on the team? Or perhaps at this point in the project, the team should focus on finishing the product rather than adopting something new? Provide the person with an opportunity to explain his behavior.

    Not only does this enable you to find out the reasons behind the conflict, you might also learn something valuable. If the change really is bad for the team, then you would have known about it early enough to make corrections.

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    The Person is Uncomfortable

    People are creatures of habit. When something disrupts their habit, some of them become extremely agitated and uncomfortable. This might explain why your key player resists or opposes change. Perhaps she enjoyed her lifestyle so much that anything new will throw off her regular routine?

    In this case, you can assure this person of the benefits change will bring, such as speeding up process, increasing productivity, or easing the workload.

    Also, provide support. Let the person know that there will be ample help during the initial transition and extra support whenever she needs it. Give the person a sense of ease so that she feels better when facing something new.

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    Difficult Personality

    In the case of a difficult personality, you have to be assertive with the person. As a PM, you have assumed a management position, and have the right to impose order. Even with someone kicking and screaming, you must make change happen.

    Start with a private conversation or email to the person, and ask him to stop this unreasonable and unprofessional behavior. Stress the fact that change is mandatory, and everyone must follow with no exceptions. You can even tell him to consider this a warning.

    If this doesn’t work, then engage higher authorities, such as the person’s manager. Someone with the ability to affect his review – and therefore his raise – has the leverage to calm his misbehavior.

    Also, consider training another team member with the person’s responsibilities. Make sure that if you no longer want him on the team, you can disposed of him easily. Even if he is the key player right now, with the way he is acting, he won't be for long.

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    It is certainly frustrating when a team member, especially a key player, won't adapt to change. However, you are the project manager and have the right to demand cooperation. Try to work with the person through extra communication, find out the person's reasons and then deal with it. Just remember that you can conquer any problem with thought and persistence.

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