We recently completed the first phase of a project working with a sales team that was struggling with internal communication issues. In short, the manager was giving guidance and direction to the sales team who were having trouble keeping up with changing initiatives. This caused a disconnect between manager and “managees”, which resulted in tension between the two sides. And it prompted us to have them “stop the presses” for a moment so we could take a look at what was happening.
Very simply, we all gathered in a room and began to sound out what was going on among all involved. The accusations started flying. “They don’t listen to me.” “The manager doesn’t listen to us.” “He doesn’t understand that it takes time to put these changes into place.” Etc. All very real problems, all very frustrating to those involved. And all very commonly found in many companies.
If any of this sounds familiar, read on, you’re not alone.
Upon closer examination we figured out that there wasn’t a misunderstanding here. It’s not like the sales team didn’t know what was expected of them, or didn’t know how to execute the new initiatives. It’s simply that they needed time. And it turns out that the reason WHY they needed time was the most important element.
There are many dynamics happening during any communication within a team. But, one often overlooked aspect is the variation in personality types—regardless of job types. Different personalities respond and adapt to change differently. Not everyone is able to immediately change their workflow, overnight. Not everyone is able to immediately stop their decision-making approach and swap in a new one. For many, this level of change takes time. Time to absorb. Time to understand. Time to visualize the new process and all its moving parts. And time to implement carefully.
This is not a question of intelligence, or competence, or capabilities. It is merely a style point, and one that good managers know well.
Put your geek hat on for a second and think of the wave patterns for analog signals and digital signals. If you’re not familiar, here comes the explanation (from a self-admitted geek): analog signals look something like ocean waves, gradually rising and falling over time. Whereas digital signals rise and fall in sharp, almost immediate, steps. It’s the difference between turning on your analog TV 30 years ago and turning on your digital iPhone now. One takes time, one is instant. But both provide value.
In some ways at least, you can think of people responding to change in the same different ways (actually, there are much more detailed personality analyses that go deeply into the nuances of how people respond in the workplace, but let’s stay simple for today). Some people are analog. And some are digital. In this case, the sales team was mostly analog, and the manager was digital. So you’d have a manager issuing a directive to the team and expecting them to respond as he would—instantly changing to the new approach. Where in reality, the analog sales team required time to hear the initiative, absorb it, live with it for a bit and start the process of adapting to it. In many cases, the digital decision can take the analog team a few weeks to respond to completely. Digital managers take heed!
While not a cure-all, this understanding of varying thought processes and approaches to change can make a huge difference in interpreting employee behavior. What could have been seen as the team ignoring the manager’s advice 3 days into the change can now be more clearly understood as a change-in-progress, on its way to rising to the peak of the wave where the digital decision is waiting.
Do you have this scenario in your business? Which one are you—analog or digital? Which are your employees? Take the time to understand the strengths of your team and you’ll find a more successful conclusion with all signals lining up in the end.