People are Messy

WRITTEN BY Mike Cottmeyer

It’s almost a cliche in the consulting field that all problems are people problems… sometimes though, I don’t think we really appreciate the depth of truth in that statement. Improving the systems in which we work, introducing some new processes, or bringing in a new approach or methodology or tool requires people to change what they are doing today and requires them to do something different tomorrow.

Change is hard… change is scary… change isn’t safe.

I’m guessing that most of us have read Kotter’s work on leading change… and while I do believe that managing change… or even leading change… is an essential part of bringing new ways of working into any organization… it feels to me that there is something deeper, more personal around change than putting gloves on a table, or posters up around an office.  Resistance to change often runs deep for reasons that are not immediately obvious.

Let me tell you a little story about my wife and I growing up… while we both grew up in stable two-parent homes… our early childhood experiences were very different.

My family moved around a lot when I was a kid. By the time we settled down in Tampa, FL I had lived 4 different states, probably 6 or 7 different cities, and at least 6 different elementary schools. I was forced to get used to new environments and make new friends on a regular basis. While we had the basics, my family lived with a tremendous amount of financial insecurity.

My wife on the other hand grew up in one city her entire life. Her Dad was a mathemetician at Eglin Air Force Base, had one job, and she lived in one house until she went to college . Kimi grew up with a consistent set of friends and had all her family in the same general area. Her family was able to take a family vacation every year and didn’t have any of the financial instability I experienced as a kid.

While both families ended up just fine… my expectations about change very different from my wife’s expectations. My experience is that you do what you have to do, go where you have to go, and take chances and everything works out well. My wife’s experience is that you stay in one place, hold into what works, and don’t assume a bunch of risk and everything turns out well.

I could go on and on about other differences in our experiences growing up… relationships with parents and siblings… being the oldest or the youngest… the caliber of people we both chose to hang out with… our influences and our faith and the decisions we both made… but at this point I’ve already shared too much and don’t want to get into any more trouble than necessary to make my point ;-)

Needless to say people are complicated.

My point is this… as individuals, change isn’t really an intellectual process. It’s not really even just an emotional one… where if people could just see, or feel good about another way of doing things… they would get on board with the new approach. On many levels we are dealing with very personal deep seeded stuff… the stuff that anchors us as people and defines who we are in relation to the world.

I don’t know that I have any answers here… but I’ve been very intentional lately trying to understand more about the people I work with, who they are as people, their expectations about life and the world around them, and what makes them feel safe and secure in their experience with work. Sometimes you have direct access to that information, some times you have to infer it… but either way… it’s usually the truth behind the resistance.

Anyway… just something to think about. It’s an idea that’s been noodling around in my head for the past several months and this is my first attempt to put words around it. I’d be interested to hear what you have to share regarding this. I suspect it won’t be the last time this topic comes up.

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4 comments on “People are Messy”

  1. Flowmotion Café

    We completely agree – paying attention to the small differences, and the large ones, between the people we work with can sometimes be the key to coaching them and helping them progress. We’re all unique, after all :)

    Reply