Spoon-feed radical change

Industrialist Charles Kettering said, "The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has brought progress." Sometimes, to temper the anxiety and apprehension associated with change, it must be carefully and tactfully motivated.
By Raymond Dreyfack April 1, 1999

Industrialist Charles Kettering said, “The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has brought progress.”

Sometimes, to temper the anxiety and apprehension associated with change, it must be carefully and tactfully motivated. If an idea is hard to accept steps can be taken to smooth the way.

Engineering Project Manager Floyd Robertson could testify to this from personal experience when he decided to assign Bill Garvey the Labor and Materials Cost Assessment to determine the feasibility of adding a wing to Plant Warehouse C. The report, when complete, would be reviewed not only by Robertson, but also by Plant Engineer Harold Cross and ultimately by the president of the company as well.

Garvey’s negative reaction was apparent from the moment the subject was broached. A bright young engineer, it would represent a career milestone for him and an opportunity for excellent exposure to his superiors. But Garvey didn’t view it that way. He saw it as a worriesome first. He had helped prepare important reports in the past, but never had been assigned primary authorship and responsibility. If he failed it would be a big setback.

The young engineer confronted Robertson with a variety of excuses and reasons why he would be better served to assign someone else to the job. The manager understood his anxiety but felt it was a hurdle that had to be overcome as part of Garvey’s education, development, and eventual advancement. The challenge lay in changing his mindset.

Question: What motivational strategy would you suggest that Robertson adopt?

Berger’s advice: Robertson wisely discussed the problem with his boss, Plant Engineer Norman Berger.

“You identified the objective correctly,” Berger replied, “as doing something to alter Garvey’s mindset. Accepting primary responsibility for a project of this magnitude would be a formidable first for him. Instead of hitting him head on with the challenge, it might smooth the way if you spoon fed it to him.”

“How?”

“By easing him into it a step at a time. Send him to Warehouse C to look into the situation. Then discuss it with him informally. Get his opinion on various aspects. Familiarize him with the project. Get him interested in it. After a week or so of exposure, my guess is he’ll be a pushover to take over that project.”