The Art of Leading Through Resistance

ISS EDUlearn AMA Podcast Season 1 Episode 4 

The ISS EDUlearn AMA Podcast is brought to you by the ISS EDUlearn® team. These episodes aim to bring you expert opinions on some of the hottest topics in international education. This week’s episode showcases Anne Sidebottom, as we dive into why making the change process transparent and helping people understand your principles in decision-making comes a long way in curbing change resistance.

Hello. Hello everyone, and welcome back to episode four of ISS EDUlearn ask me anything. I am Mike. Mike, your favorite educator, interviewer and I am here with Dana Watts, our Director of Research and Development. Who are we here with today, Dana? Today we’re here with Anne Sidebottom and Gabby Oster, right. Am I saying that correctly? Pretty close name, a strong name. 

And they were our recent facilitators from our ISS EDUlearn course called “The Art of Leading Through Difficult Changes”. As we know, change is always been a factor in our training in international school communities, but recently, global events have made, change even more challenging and impactful than ever. And so they have been guiding us and helping us lead the way and figure out how to navigate these new waters. 

Q: All right. And we’ll get started. And I, in my very first question, has to do with resistance. We spoke a lot about resistance in the two courses that you had. And you also showed a graph that said that mid-level managers and employees, employees that are in the frontline are the ones who most likely are the ones to resist. 

So kind of wanted to know, how can an organization reduce this resistance? I know you shared a few type of practical type of tactics, but just wanted to know which ones made this your favorite.

A: Thanks, Mike. I think that that’s a great question. I’ll be happy to take off and join in and and chime in when necessary. There’s a whole lot of different ways that people resist. 

Change can be seen to be resistant. We we’ve talked through a few different models and ways of kind of thinking about managing it and essentially trying to really, really the way of managing it is trying to predict how people might respond to and might react, and then trying to address those concerns earlier so that we don’t actually find them, find them actively resisting as changes as changes come to hit. 

There’s probably a few different ways that we do that. Did you want to join in there as well? Yeah. As always. I think that I think it’s a it’s a great question because simulators often think about employees as being resistant to change. And yet by the time employees hear about the change, simulators have been thinking about it for some time, and staff haven’t had the same amount of time to get used to the idea, to talk about it and do those sorts of things. 

So I think I’m not sure I yeah, I’m not sure it’s actual resistance. So when I think it sometimes we just haven’t had the same amount of time as you to get used to this idea. The fundamental thing I think of and change is if people understand why, the why is something we all need as human beings. Why are we doing whatever it is that we’re doing? 

And if people understand that purpose and that understand how it links to the ethos of the organization, or in particular, how this is going to be beneficial for students or how it’s going to be beneficial in terms of keeping the organization going. Some of those changes are really, really tough. And of course, humans are going to say not really on board with this. 

I’m not really comfortable because I’m not with. But, so it’s those sorts of realities and remembering that people who came in and at Ellis and said thinking to how might people respond, you know, where are where are they at? The other thing I, I think about is the minute that you’re tired of speaking about change, it’s a very moment that start to get up. 

So you cannot possibly overcommunicate.

Q: Okay. Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s so that’s so spot on. And, when you were talking, I was thinking of Simon. Simon Sinek. Right. And that like. Yeah, I like, you know, know your why, share your why. And too often you hit the nail on the head when you talked about how there’s so much change, especially within schools, happens behind closed doors. 

And so it’s more that teachers and parents and sometimes students feel like it’s being done to them because they weren’t a part of the process. Do you have any recommendations on how to make that process more transparent?

A: Well, I know that it’s often having been involved in, you know, some large scale change, as we say, I retrenchment people, we use all that sort of what I call ways of words around in a rightsizing organization, all of that kind of crap like a, you know, people kind of lose their jobs. 

Let’s think online. The main thing I would suggest there is that you I don’t know why you share everything, but what you can do is let people know there’s a problem. You know that we’re thinking about this at the moment. We don’t know what the solution is if if that’s the truth. Or you can talk about that, that there is an issue and people know, I know that there’s an issue.

Typically they know often that change is needed. If they don’t, it’s really helping people understand. It’s not always possible. If I’m thinking about the external kind of change where you are doing, you know, going to do retrenchments and so on, it’s not possible to consult frontline staff in that instance, but it is possible to talk about we’ve got a problem. 



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We have into it declining enrollments, for example. And, you know, unless we can increase those, we are going to have to make some pretty tough decisions. We’re working through that at the moment. This is the process that we’ll use in order to make decisions. So helping people understand the principle through which you will make decisions in the process. 

So you can’t say who or how, but you can say, you know, be be sharing as much as is possible, and in particular, letting people know the principles on which decisions will be made and that every attempt will be made to be, you know, it’s fair across everybody all the time sorts of things. Sorry. I mean, you know, and I was just going to chime in. 

I think you’re absolutely right. Whenever you can they where you can be as sort of genuine and truthful and honest with people as possible. You know, people feel that they know when you’re telling them the truth and they know when you’re they can sense when you’re, you’re, you know, wrapping it up in, in a different kind of a message. 

And I think wherever possible, we are consistent, regular communications, as you know, frequently, as you said, until you’re almost sick of saying the same thing, they might finally, you know, generally, people are finally starting to to understand the message, not because people are slow, but because there’s a lot of communication out there, and it takes a while for the messages to sink in. 

I think, you know, equally important that people get the messages, deliver the messages by the right people. So in the majority of cases, people want to hear the message from their direct manager because that’s who they can go to and talk about what they’re concerned about and, and, and understand. Well, what does that mean for me? And, you know, maybe we don’t know what that means to them just yet, but they can have that direct conversation. 

And if you do say some cases where that the message is delivered from the to high up or from sort of a three steps removed source, and people have no where to go if they hearing the message that way and that, and the people around them are empowered or equipped with all the all the messages to, to speak openly with, with their frontline or even, you know, senior leadership talking to middle management, really making sure that everyone’s equipped with the right messages to talk to their people. 

I think is really critical. I would add there, I’m sorry, Dana, I’m glad that that it is useful to have those multiple levels of communication and then to have the opportunity for what we call a town hall kind of thing, where everybody is invited to a session with, say, the principal or the board or whoever, all the people who ultimately make those decisions. 

It is important that they’re vulnerable to respond to questions. So you might have a facilitated session. It’s often difficult when you’re in a group of 60 people. Someone wants to ask anything, but you might have someone facilitating that to say, gathering some questions beforehand from people, for example, anonymously, you might to usher in a free survey monkey with staff to say what are the concerns? 

You know, we’ll ask those in a safe way in a, in a setting, because sometimes, yes, people want to hear from their line manager. They also want to know broadly where we are all that. So there’s benefit in doing both, because not every line manager will communicate stuff in the sideline. And and I hear that’s a solution to the resistance can be transparency. 

And something that comes to mind is like is there something else too much sharing? Because there is a hierarchy that’s there for a reason. Right. So the in your in your mind, do you think there’s something that’s something as too much sharing and habit and is all models that do work have employees as a part of the decision? 

You know, the higher up decisions? I think there is absolutely the idea of either sharing. I think about the parallel with parents and, and, children. So sometimes it’s helpful to think about those family systems and it’s not useful when it’s not their job as children to think about the family’s finances, for example, events and kids look up really worried about how we’re going to pay the mortgage is similar with employees, not not with their children, that it’s not their job to be worrying about that. 

The job is to be doing the teaching and the learning and so on. So and so. It’s a burden for employees to know too much, because that we don’t want to burden people with information that will make them feel compromised or, but they’re knowing things that are going to be difficult, just not useful. So, absolutely, there is the idea of oversharing, and you have to be very careful about who has access to what information. 

I’m not. So my point of view being secrets, but from the point of view of really protecting everybody’s dignity and also a sense of psychological safety, that’s how I tend to that. You know, I would add to that as well that, and it’s sort of the counterbalance to the being transparent and, and talking about that is a problem that we’re trying to solve when you’re at the early stages. 

And if it’s a really the real pickle for the the board or the leadership team to be solving, being overly transparent about the difficulties facing could just inspire a whole lot of unnecessary uncertainty, because you haven’t actually got far enough into the problem solving process yourselves. So I sort of oversharing too much about about sort of unknown challenges or solutions could certainly throw people into a spiral of their own uncertainty and, and potentially lose a degree of faith. 

So I think it’s getting that getting that balance of transparency right and respecting the process. But, you know, the senior leadership team need to go through to get to the stage where you are in a position to share and talk about the process that you’re going through and, and the the details of the problem. I think that’s it’s a it’s a balance. 

But they certainly could be oversharing by talking too much too soon and inspiring a lot of uncertainty. And I think if we’re not talking about if we’re not talking about having to reduce the number of staff, if we’re talking about a different kind of change where there is a not a problem that one of us might have a solution. 

Q: Absolutely. That’s the right time taking account of, comments that you don’t want to be sharing problems that are really big, but where there are ones that will impact on the, you know, the safety of the whole organization. But whether problems that we don’t know how to solve around how we educate kids or how do we. The last time I was talking, how do we activate the community, how do we use WhatsApp? 

A: All of those sorts of things. Then that’s where you will get ideas from the people who know, so that the people who are interacting with the kids, they’re the ones who are interacting with parents in the community. So it’s quite appropriate to consult and to ourselves together. So it depends on the problem as to and the desired change as to what what you would do. 

And just secondly, on the idea of, which model do we have a cyber model. And, and I were talking about this in terms of being agnostic around which one organizations often have the time for. There’s no point in trying to change it, if I don’t mind. I always advocate for the simplest like example. When we have a complex of five things we don’t need to. 

So I like to try and think about. I can explain it to a child and it’s too complex. In the midst of changes or families and students sort of must say, yeah. In fact, the way I advocate to any organization is if you hold at the very center of all of your decision making, if your data. So then you can’t have, that and say, Bailey, that’s really nice and simple. 

One of my favorite expressions I heard, I heard of school say once that a child had been caught off campus, possibly potentially in the middle of a drug deal. And so the parents came after the head of school and said, you know, we need we demand to know the name. We demand to know the name. And I was so thrilled to hear this head of school say, there are no bad children. 

Our children who make bad choices. And I will protect that child as much as I would protect your child because that child is made a bad choice. And I think children are always and the families are always at the heart of so much of what we do in schools. And I often hear the expression of, like the empty chair in the room, like you always try to imagine the child or the family in that room when you’re making decisions, because your school is is an extension of a home. 

And so much of their community. And we really have to be careful when we’re making decisions because it’s going to impact things in their home as well. Yeah, I think about how I feel about my kids. you get like a tiger, a tiger. That’s sort of, my kids can mom, dad be like a lion? Because if something goes wrong, I really want a love and all of that. 

So you have people who are obviously very passionate about their kids, and, you know, the example that you bring up the diner is it’s a really important one, that the whole idea of being in school is to learn and to learn. We have to make mistakes in adults do and we all do. And that shouldn’t be the end. 

It’s important that we have a way of, I would call it having that sort of reparative form. What? It’s a quote anyway, one of those conversations. So restorative conversation. That’s fine. I work with a school where kids have significant behavioral issues and have been had extreme trauma, difficult and and also difficult things in, in government care and so on. 

And the whole idea is about respect and that once a child, every child has the right to an education and to so human right. And so in order to do that, other children need to be in that allow that child to learn. So it really guides how, you know what expectations there would be of behavior, including behavior of parents. 

Q: So we hold everyone to the same standard is kind of what I was saying. Let’s hope people aren’t the ones that’s the you having. And during your presentation, you shared a statistic that was from Harvard Business Review, and it was kind of shocking. And I just wanted to know if you have a response as to why that number is so high, but is it 70% of change efforts fail, 70% failed to realize the full benefit, I think, is what the rest of that sentence you think it might be. 

Correct me if I’m wrong and that I entirely fail. Yeah. And I and I think you’re right. I mean, you know, the the determination of success is that often for something to be successful, you need to have gotten everyone across that line and doing something differently or, you know, you haven’t you haven’t left half the people behind or struggling to catch up, struggling to whether it’s, you know, adapt to a new way of doing things, or I’m thinking of reasons why they why they shouldn’t do it or sort of come on board. 

A: So I think the idea of success is that you actually fully realize those benefits. And I think the majority of the vast majority of change programs never quite fully realize those benefits, because they don’t bring everyone along with them. I think you can. There’s the there’ll be the early adopters and the enthusiasts that come along and, and can and can say the way I’m we’re not necessarily talking about sort of sensitive role people, big people changes here about say, you know, programs where you’re whether you’re rolling out new curriculum or, changing the timetable or changing the way that we’re doing things within, within a school or sort of making some fundamental changes, that’s not necessarily resulting in job losses. And like, you need everyone to come onboard fully to, to realize the benefits you’ve predicted. For that. And more often than not, you actually don’t get all the way there. So it’s it’s a dramatic statistic, I suppose. It’s it’s used for use perhaps somewhat for effect to, to really draw people’s attention to the fact that, that the majority of programs don’t get all the way there, but all change programs are justified on a, a projected ROI and, and a set of benefits that have been calculated and determined to, you know, to be realized as a result of that. 

And and in our experience and certainly from from the research, the vast majority don’t actually get their all or they actually don’t. One of the other area, one of the things that it’s areas where they fall over is that they they don’t actually stick around to measure the benefits right through to the end. So, you know, you sort of you finish the project plan, you get to the, the last task and, and job done and you sort of start following through and reinforcing that some of those changes stick in, if particularly if it’s, you know, behavioral or softer areas. 

But but would have a tangible impact, it is difficult to follow through. it’s very difficult to maintain that momentum once you sort of at the, at the end of the real work. Okay. I guess I’ll let this just justice slide and I’ll, I would add to that, that it just brought to mind and the idea that when you are thinking about implementing change or you’ve got a Y, you know, there’s some change needed to really useful. 

And people often know who they are to find those people who are most likely to be in step, and involve them early, okay, because they’re going to be able to tell you all the things that could go wrong and you need them except, you know, inside for some reason that have. So it’s good to understand them.  

Agree. Yeah. And I know that as well that typically a lot of programs are a lot of efforts to make a change. I think, you know, the reason we call out the this, the statistic and the failure rate is because so many tend to engage change management as a, as a, as a role or as a practice in the program. 

Far too like they, they bring it in when the rubber is about to hit the road and all of a sudden, oh, we need to communicate this to a whole lot of people because no one knows that’s coming. And oh, now we’ve got to train a whole lot of people, and they’re kind of the the two most basic elements of change management. 

Whereas if you’re actually putting the hard work earlier on that part comes along. But if you if you put in the hard work earlier on and reengaging with the people who could help you bring, bring those people along and, and help advocate for those changes and help advocate and and spread that why and help people understand at the back end of the of the program can be much, much easier. 

But often those efforts are engaged far too late. Yeah. Position sounds like it should be named, disaster management or something. Yeah. This is this. And saying if you plan, if you. What is that? If you fail to plan, you plan to fail the five P’s pretty much. Yeah. Well, mine is proper preparation prevents poor performance. Right. That’s it everyone. 

Q: Yeah, I like that. Like, I have one last question that I have before I see time is is going. What changes do you guys foresee within the next 12 months? And in the last three years, we have seen many changes. But within the next world, what do you foresee that some schools may need to change what I’m saying here, and I don’t have a global perspective. 

So would you guys would 90 school in a diner I mentioned with your experience as well. But what I’m noticing in Australia is a much greater emphasis on social and emotional awareness and skill development for kids. So therefore, teachers and support staff have to be able to do the same. So being self aware and knowing how to regulate your emotions, knowing how to work with others, I call applied salience sentiment, you know, not flicking sand into other people’s eyes. 

A: So it’s about getting ahead because the world has changed and the sort of work that we do is more intense. Truly, probably always was. But, you know, you can’t really ever achieve anything by yourself. So helping kids develop skills to work effectively together, I think that was that thing was produced a while ago around 21st century skills. So there’s a set of competencies that have been defined. 

And we know that, you know, it’s not only useful to have social and emotional awareness just for wellbeing, let alone working with other people. So that’s a really the Saskia, I’m interested in your views. And I also think that, we’re concerned that I think we’re going to a teacher shortage. I agree with the social emotional, and I think we’re just starting to see the impact of what Covid in lockdown has done to not just our students and our children, but also to the teachers and adults in our buildings, in our communities. 

But then also the impact of all this stress on our sector and our and just education in general. And they had to change on the dime overnight and start teaching online. And then they went to hybrid and then they went back and forth and then they’re, you know, moving back and forth in between to mask, not mask and everything else. 

It’s just been a lot on teachers. And it’s a wonderful, profession, but it’s also a demanding profession. In the past few years has been incredibly demanding. So I am concerned about that. How about for you in. Yeah, I think I think you’re right. And so I mean, in general terms, I mean everyone’s saying a lot more mobility now. 

I think there were you know, there was obviously a lot of change in the workforce early on during lockdowns. And for those who perhaps weren’t going to be could, could say that they weren’t going to be immediately affected. A lot of people just bunkered down for that couple of years and, and hang on tight to to whatever they were doing, aware of or they were. 

But we’re now seeing that sort of almost tidal wave of mobility. And people have now looking for opportunities to move around. And I think, you know, with the, the, the flexibility and the increased flexibility and different ways of working that that’s obviously come out of this, the processing, a lot of sort of transferability of skills. So, you know, you might see people crossing industries and, and changing roles into quite significant roles because, you know, we’re sort of looking at everything much more flexibly. 

So I think, you know, certainly retention and potential attrition of staff is going to be a big problem. I think we’ve we’ve also seen the scenario where obviously when the pandemic hit, you know, most organizations had they had a pretty full pop, as most organizations do have a full pipeline of projects to be delivered. And almost everything got put on hold indefinitely. 

And I think there’s now there’s sort of okay, let’s kind of reset. Where are we? There’s some pretty big backlogs there, and there’s no more hours in the week or the other year to get things done. So this, this kind of need to be ruthlessly prioritizing what we do or even thinking really differently about. Is that still the right project to get done, or do we need to do this differently or approach it differently? 

I think you know, there’s the there’s a big backlog for a lot of people, a lot of organizations to start tackling. And I think probably, yeah, a degree of creativity in the way that you tackle that backlog could be really helpful. Now. And that brings to mind I’ve just done some work with hospitals to around have. How do you hold on to people if we you know, and it’s about respecting the profession and how does how do we make that happen when that’s kind of a bigger issue? 

To your point around the just the the difficulties that people have faced and the really big challenges that people have faced all around the world, often they’ve found that change is possible one person at a time. And sometimes it’s very helpful to have. I’ve been thinking about ways big on, you know, breaking bread. So having a discussion with the community and inviting people in to talk about, well, this is what we’ve been through. 

We all have, you know, kids, families and staff and teaching and sort of talking about that and then talking about how, you know, what we’re looking to do to help us heal. And when you it’s a it’s a useful thing to do just to start and help families think about. Yeah, it was pretty hard for teachers to they’re just not as conscious of it. 

And the other is for every single person it later, if you like, in an organization to ask some pretty basic questions around what can I do? What’s one thing I could do to help, you know, professional development or that sort of thing that actually a Harvard Business Review came out with? Five really good question, which I’ll share with you if you like, but that’s pretty much what helps people is that someone is interested in them. 

Someone cares or sees them and is willing to have some time to talk about them in their future. Oh excellent point. Well, thank you both so much. And and Gabby, this has been amazing opportunity to chat with you further. And we’ve really enjoyed the course that you ran for us through. Easy to learn. And, it’s a part of our ISDa learn passport, where we are trying to meet the needs of teachers, and we’re really trying to listen to our communities and see what they need. 

And this is a workshop. This is our second time running it because we’ve had teachers and leaders just say, like, this is this is hard and we need help. So thank you for guiding and guiding our, our colleagues and helping us all navigate what’s coming next, because we appreciate it and we need to help each other learn and grow together. 

Thank you. Thank you, thank you. It’s my pleasure. Thank you guys. It’s Dana. This is the end of episode four. You can find us on Spotify ISS Edulearn Ask Me Anything. Until next time. Bye bye everyone. Thank you. Bye.