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Leader's Edge Dysfunctional Change

Want to curb resistance to real change in your office? First, make sure it works.

By  Christopher Gagnon

I was recently asked this question: How do we approach change in our organization so that our colleagues embrace it?

The traditional approach is to fall back into the well defined discipline of change management. At the risk of maligning an entire cottage industry, I like to sum up change management as a loose joining of psychology, sociology and coercion. Yes, some people are set in their ways. Yes, some people truly want to live rigid, stoic lives. But in my experience, these truly change-averse individuals are few and far between. So, why is change so often hard to deal with in our brokerages?

Nearly every agency has made a shift in technology. Think email systems, smartphones and agency management systems. An inevitable factor to success is convincing our most loyal servicing staff to change their ways. In fact, every time I’ve been involved in an agency system change, the agency principal inevitably asks me, “How many people will quit because of this change?” The underlying belief is that our employees are resistant to change. This is a strange belief because it’s simply not true.

Our industry has lots of great leaders. They hit the road on a regular basis, visiting their locations, talking to their teams and getting a sense of how their company is doing from the inside out. The next time you walk through your offices, take a look around. How many of your servicing people are bringing their iPhones to work? The next time you’re on LinkedIn or Facebook, do a quick search to see if you can find any of your change-resistant colleagues. I bet you will.

Your employees and colleagues aren’t resistant to change. They’re resistant to change that doesn’t work. They’re resistant to change that directly affects them without creating a tangible direct benefit in return. Ever try to get a top producer to use a prospecting or CRM system? What’s in it for them? Their job is to foster relationships, open the door and get your agency’s experts in the room at the right time to seal the deal. It’s not their job to track production and handicap odds of winning next quarter’s business.

Our servicing teams have a similar problem. As an agency leader, you have to think in broad terms. How do I get my invalidated producers in the groove? How do we get our agency growth back to double digits? Your servicing teams have a different approach. They count clicks and minutes. When you suggest a major system change, they worry that the clicks will increase. When you add more clicks and more screens, you slow them down without giving them a direct benefit in return. Unfortunately, most agency system changes result in some amount of this workflow bloat. Our service teams get cranky, and we interpret this as resistance to change.

So how do we fix this problem? Take a look at the technologies that we’re all adopting in our personal lives. Every one of them makes life easier and allows us to short-cut our way to connectivity, information and results.

I didn’t see any value in Facebook when I signed up in 2008. Now, I don’t ever have to talk to my cousin Larry. I know about all the weird stuff he’s doing because he updates his status 12 times an hour. Now that’s a useful change!

Innovation is only successful when it’s focused in the right way. If we validate the need for innovation and change against the following core tenets, resistance will dissipate, often in its entirety:

  • Every change imposed on a colleague should come with a direct tangible benefit to them. If it does not, reassess the solution.
  • The “experience” a system provides is as important as the function the system was designed to perform. If the functions of my iPhone were only available in a 98-pound device that required a backpack to carry it, I’d probably do without.
  • Change management is required to convince people to accept something you have decided to adopt without accepting their input. If it changes your colleagues’ lives, include them. More importantly, listen to their thoughts.
  • When people perceive they’ve had a hand in building something, they will possess an irrational over-valuation of it. It’s human nature. Query your decision makers, stakeholders and yourself to assure that your decisions are being constructed thoughtfully, rationally and with as much neutrality as possible.

So, what is the short answer to the original question? Well, let’s first change the question from, “How do we convince our teams that change is good?” to “How do we improve the lives of our servicing teams?” If we do this, the original question becomes irrelevant.

Gagnon is The Council’s director of strategic technology and president of Tiebeam Partners.


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