Winning Strategies for Innovators Facing Resistance

Steve LudwigCoachingLeave a Comment

White chess pieces with one black pawn signifying one person having to overcome resistance.

What’s your luck in getting innovation through an organization?

If you are like the rest of us, the roadblocks and conflicts come fast and furious. Nothing can be as animating for people as an idea they hate.

There are a lot of reasons for this. Some are valid, some so-so, others outright ludicrous. But it is the way it is.

So, if you are the one that has the innovative idea, like a Pathfinder, how do you handle that conflict that comes with an innovative idea in an organization that might be resistant?

Before getting started, it’s crucial to understand why people resist change. Resistance often stems from:

Fear of the Unknown: Change can create uncertainty, and many people prefer the comfort of familiar routines.

Loss of Control: People hate losing control or what they see as their ability to make autonomous decisions. Change can make individuals feel powerless, like they’re losing control over their environment.

Bad Timing: Introducing a new idea to the boss when they just found out their spouse wants a divorce would be what people call “bad timing.” You don’t have a receptive audience.

Timing matters if you want your innovation to have the best chance of gaining support. Resistance to new ideas increases during periods of stress or heavy workloads.

Perceived Negative Impact: “Hey, this AI will save us tons of money, but half of you will lose your job.”

If the change threatens job security, increases workload, or disrupts established social structures, it will likely face opposition.

You have to show how the idea will help more than hurt.

Past Experiences: “Oh, you mean this change isn’t a temporary fad like the last four times?” Previous failed changes can make people skeptical about new initiatives.

Winning Strategies

Be Patient and Flexible

What we describe in the following suggestions takes time. While your solution or idea might be incredibly obvious to you, it won’t be for others. Otherwise, it would already exist.

Getting people to buy into an idea takes time. You have to be strategic about your approach, deal with the emotional ups and downs that may come with it, and be persistent.

That takes great patience, especially when you think the matter is urgent.

Stay committed to your vision, but be flexible enough to adjust your approach as needed.

Find Your Tribe

In every organization, along with the people whose first reaction is always no! some people are driven to get things done, which usually requires innovation. Find them. Build a mutual support network.

This is your tribe—a coalition of the willing.

No matter how good your idea is, you will likely fail if you try to go with it alone.

This group can help you develop your idea to a significant maturity, build further support in the organization, test it, and present it to higher-ups when the time is right.

If nothing else, this group will help you keep your sanity and your innovation skills sharp.

Innovation Doesn’t Occur in a Silo

Do your homework, figure out how your innovation will impact other groups (because it will), and get them on board first. Odds are, they will also provide feedback on something you might have overlooked.

If you don’t do this, you will have a very determined group that will likely work to ensure your idea doesn’t fly.

Understand The Culture

People are often against innovation for personal reasons—it’s too disruptive, it wasn’t their idea, it’s too great a risk, etc. However, there are also cultural reasons for resistance.

What are those?

If you can frame your idea to fit within culture and/or values, even if your innovation might be disruptive, that will increase the chance of success.

For example, suppose you want to implement a new system that would be complex, costly, and disruptive. In that case, you can frame it as ultimately meeting the higher organizational goals of superior customer service, leading to greater long-term profitability.

Understand When to Ask for Forgiveness Rather than Permission

This is advice you usually hear but never read.

If you tell the wrong people about your idea/project/innovation too soon, they can kill it before it has a chance. “That’s a stupid idea. Don’t spend any time on that; it’s off-purpose.”

Even smart people often can’t see what an idea might look like in reality/practice.

When you feel like you have a solid idea that might face resistance, it’s best to work on it quietly and then share your “thing” when it has some structure or is fully baked.

It is not a guarantee, but it will increase the odds of your success. If they kill the idea, you can ask for forgiveness for spending time on it, which is usually granted.

If you ask for permission first and they say no and you still work on it, it could be career-limiting.

Empathy and Active Listening

“They are stubborn, stupid, and stuck.”

Okay, that might be true.

But it’s more likely you don’t fully understand their perspective.

To reduce resistance, you must start by putting yourself in your colleagues’ shoes. Understand their concerns and the reasons behind their reluctance. Active listening involves paying close attention to their words, tone, and body language without interrupting.

Show empathy by acknowledging their feelings and validating their concerns. This approach builds trust and opens the door to more productive conversations.

There is no guarantee that they will accept your idea, but you have built a better relationship. Solid work relationships build your chances for next time.

Clear and Transparent Communication

Any sitcom or romantic comedy would be over in two minutes if people just stopped and said, “I think we have a misunderstanding here. Can you clarify what you think?”

Misunderstandings often fuel resistance.

Be explicit and clear about your idea—which will likely involve change— the benefits it will bring, and how it aligns with the organization’s goals.

Also, don’t gloss over the difficulties it may cause or how hard it will be to implement. That will build your creditability.

Transparency helps mitigate fear of the unknown. Provide detailed plans, timelines, and expected outcomes.

Regular updates and open forums for questions can also help demystify the change process.

Bring Your Detractors on Board

Involving resistant individuals in the planning and implementation process can reduce opposition. When people feel they have a say in the change, they are more likely to support it.

Create opportunities for collaboration, such as workshops, brainstorming sessions, and pilot programs. This inclusive approach not only garners support but also leverages diverse perspectives to refine and improve the innovation.

Highlighting Benefits and Quick Wins

Emphasize the benefits of the change, not just for the organization but for the individuals involved. Whether it’s increased efficiency, reduced workload, or new opportunities for professional growth, personalizing the benefits can make the change more appealing.

Additionally, focus on achieving quick wins—small, positive outcomes that can be realized early in the implementation process. These successes can build momentum and demonstrate the tangible benefits of the change.

Managing Your Emotions

Handling conflict, especially as the innovator, can be emotionally taxing. It’s essential to manage your own emotions effectively to maintain resilience and clarity.

  • Stay Positive: Focus on the long-term benefits of the change and remind yourself why it’s important.
  • Seek Support: Find allies within the organization who share your vision and can offer support and encouragement.
  • Self-Care: Ensure you’re taking care of your physical and mental well-being. You will need to blow off steam, and these are some productive ways: regular exercise, mindfulness practices, and adequate rest are crucial.
  • Reflect and Learn: Use conflicts as learning opportunities. Reflect on what worked, what didn’t, and how you can improve your approach.

How To Help Your Organization Innovate?

One way is to hire Pathfinders. Pathfinders are individuals who do not accept the status quo, innovate, and find a new way. They create a path that benefits not just their own journey, but all others that follow.

Pathfinders can be your key to unlocking your organization’s innovative potential.

How do you find Pathfinders? We have a proprietary online Pathfinder Assessment that you can learn more about at The Pathfinder Company.

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