A lot of what I do centers around continuous improvement. I lead groups of people who are singularly focused on their own niche way of making things better. Whether that be an improvement to a form that allows them to be compliant with a regulation, identifying areas of improvement in quality handling of a situation, developing training to build on skills, or fill gaps, or identifying avenues to improve our financial results. My team and I are always driving changes that will improve something. I love this about my work. We are ever evolving creatures and I think its critical to be looking for ways to do things faster, make things easier, cross the Ts and dot the Is but do it better than we did yesterday. My teams are good at it too. They are like detectives searching out clues to improvement and then collaborating themselves and with everyone else who would be involved in the end gains to make them come to life. For me, and the people in my groups, it is invigorating to do this work and see it come to fruition.
Do you know what it looks like to someone who is on the receiving side of all that continuous improvement? Great new ideas that they logically agree with but get tired of rolling out. The thing about continuous improvement is that is keeps going, continuously. Not that we’re always changing the same thing but we’re always “up to something”. Every time someone is invited to a meeting with myself or a member of my team they know there will be either gaps identified that we’re suggesting ways to fill or we’re presenting a new way to approach something or we’re sharing news from an outside entity that is requiring us to make a change. It is no wonder then that some people look tired the minute I walk into a room.
This is true at home too except that I don’t so much have a team in involved in discovering and implementing changes. I do have tired little faces looking back at me when I announce we’re going to plan the meals, start a chore chart, turn our own socks right side out, feed the dogs, and put our shoes away in pairs rather than a kicked off couldn’t-find-your-match-if-you-searched-for-an-hour pile. I check all the boxes from explaining the why, to creating the plan, and providing reinforcement and yet, sometimes these little buggers don’t hop on board the family improvement plan with gusto, or even at all. I mean they are good plans and the boys agree logically. In the words of my seven year old, “Mom, I hear you, I just don’t want to.”
You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink.
For the longest time that proverb meant to me, I led you here, now it’s up to you. Which can be true I guess but my goodness that seems like a short road from here is this great idea and this is how we can implement it to, well, your loss! Sorry you didn’t want to follow the new process I suggested, now you’re out of compliance with the state. Sorry you didn’t want to use the coaching tools I provided, now I guess your teams won’t get the benefit. Sorry you didn’t want to put your shoes away boys, now we’ll all just yell and cry before heading to school with mismatched cowboy boots in January because we can’t find anything. To top all of that off, I’m sure you can see how short of a jump (tiny shuffle really) it is from “your loss” to “told you so.” Which is a pretty useless place to be if you’re looking to have influence and drive change.
Now it seems to me that there is another aspect to that old proverb that may have been missed in our more recent use of it. That is, how do we get them thirsty enough to take a drink? How do we make them want what we’re leading them to? Then, how do we stay patient at that watering hole long enough for them to decide to drink? I don’t pretend to have all the answers to all of that because everyone and every situation is different but I do have a few thoughts to consider in figuring it out for yourself.
Better understand what they are thirsting for.
Maybe what you’re offering does fill a need but its not a primary need of theirs right now. Ask the questions, then listen, and find out what they do want. If you’re able, set your cool new idea on the back burner and work on fixing the their primary need. They are thirsty yes, but also sun burnt. Until you can alleviate the sun burn they aren’t coming out from under the shade tree for a drink.
Maybe they do need and want what you’re offering but your pitch is off. You’re trying to explain all of the why’s associated with the change you want to implement and they are getting whiplash from all the reasons. Understanding why they need the water and simplifying to just meet that specific need will improve your likelihood that they’ll follow. Explaining that the lake is spring fed and pure, untouched by human hands, its been shown to make you look younger, live longer, and jump higher might leave them wondering if it actually quenches thirst.
Wait patiently for them to take a drink.
Maybe they don’t quite notice they are thirsty yet. They understand everything you’re saying but they just don’t see the need. With our limited time and resources (at work or in the play day) we all want to take a strategic approach and only push on things that truly are broken. Show them, through clear examples and preferably from another person’s perspective (and voice), all of the ways they are parched and how this stream you’ve guided them to can help.
Maybe they aren’t resisting at all they are just taking a beat. Sometimes when we need to think through something to better understand and invest in it ourselves; we need a moment to consider. When someone jumps in with a, “you get what I’m saying right?” we are all but forced into choosing a side when we’re not ready. Allow them the time to take those last couple steps toward the water and drink on their own terms.