The biggest challenge of innovation projects is making people actually work with whatever has to be improved, changed or innovated (digitalization, robotization, new soft, automation…). Statistics say that around 70% of all projects do not deliver against marked goals. I have the feel that this might be even higher in the case of Intelligent Oilfield projects.

O&G Leadership often tells me they believe that many employees (and maybe a few managers) are “resistant”, like deliberately acting against innovation, and need to be managed or worst case, removed.

That’s a wrong assumption. All employees, all managers, including the initiators of projects, and their vendors, are scared of their own innovation projects (and what it implies for them)! Humans are wired and conditioned to resist any type of change in their daily routines, first because it consumes energy and our brains are not happy with that.

Secondly, our ancient brain says changes are a possible threat to our life, and our most common reaction to any change is a feeling of fear. That feeling cannot be avoided. It can be more or less intensive, but it’s an uncontrollable eruption triggered by a bio cocktail as a result of sensorial observation.

Pure biology that, if not managed, will trigger always one of three possible natural motivations and possible actions: attack, play dead or run away. That’s what we do and that’s what uninformed managers describe as “resistant behavior”.

There is no need for stakeholder analysis or stickering of people with “red, orange or green” dots. That’s nonsense. They are all red to more or less extend.

There is also no need to manage such resistance. What needs to be managed is the fear that generates it. If you teach people about their own emotions, where they come from, why they feel them and most important, what they can do with them, you hold one of the main keys to success. Nobody can stop feeling emotions (unless you are a psychopath, but let’s leave that subject for another blog entry), but one can consciously decide what to do with their feelings.

That’s the beginning of the end of “resistance management”.

Now let’s get back to The Act of Resistance. What does it really mean?

We have seen that if people – all – are not prepared to deal with their feelings (of fear), they will react in a natural way and indeed, you will have close to a 100% of resistant people on your hands (including your C-Suite and Steering Committee). Some will simply ignore you (playing dead), others will agitate and blame and accuse (anger and attack) and some will try and get away from you and the project as far as they can (“I am so busy, sorry, have other stuff to do”). It depends on who you are (character) and where you are (role & rank) and what you think about how much your life will change.

Most will react without really understanding themselves. It just doesn’t feel right…

Communications do not reduce resistance

There is no way that standard communications (direct or via media or both) can change these behaviors as they address people on a conscious (reason) level, motivational or not, as where their fears are bubbling underneath the skin without being addressed. Its money that can be invested much wiser in other methods and techniques that help with the mindset of people.

On the other hand, if you prepare them properly on both, emotional and awareness side of things, it will all melt down to a small number of still doubtfull people who eventually:

  1. a) Did miss the point (you can reengage and explain again), or
  2. b) did not believe in the proposed solutions (in which case you need to explain yourself better or accept that you maybe have a solution that can be improved or that next time you may want to involve stakeholders in earlier stages; a knife that cuts both ways), or
  3. c) Some stakeholders have good reasons to not trust a manager. That’s not resistance, that’s bad leadership and C-Suite level needs to correct this cascading down adjustments (not employing Change Champions* please, that’s only admitting that one has no influence on his own people).

*) Early CM Methods introduced Change Champions or -Agents, co-workers who by character and credibility had a certain natural influence on other workers. These were in fact  attempts to improve desastress results by bypassing a dysfunctional chain of command. Thos didn’t function either because it can’t. Using PROSCI’s ADKAR model explains why:

Awareness and Desire have everything to do with leadership and the wish to listen, understand and follow leaders (that’s what employees do if they trust and respect their leaders). Both, formal and informal leaders, can have the trust and respect, but transitions also require the formal authority of leaders, something Change Champions (or Change or Project Managers) will never have.  

Knowledge transfer requires SME’s and Teachers. This could be experienced colleagues or vendor experts, for example. They are not going to change anything, they are going to teach.

Ability requires Trainers, Mentors and Coaches to help co-workers transfer the learnings into practice, using new soft, tools, formats, products, while maybe working in different collaborative settings.

Reinforcement requires a bit of everything of the before, still no need to invent a Change Champion or –Agent here. People listen, learn, practice, make mistakes, stand up and move on.  

It’s True Leadership that helps them do that.