In every relationship there comes a time when something comes out of left field and we have neither anticipated it or can even understand what it is all about.
At the risk of doing a Rumsfeld (the known and unknown), it all comes down to the very similar predictable and unpredictable.
In most instances in business we are pretty well aware of how people are likely to react and if we have any sense we will think about it and even test run an issue before launch time.
The problem is, of course, that the hopefully predictable often morphs into the very unpredictable and then we have to handle a situation that we just didn’t anticipate.
It comes down to the difference between an ice cube and a hurricane, not so much in their similarities but rather in the way that we can anticipate a result.
For example, if we put an ice cube on to hot coals the result will be exactly as we predict; the ice cube will melt.
On the other hand while we are well aware that a hurricane may arise and we can track its path with some accuracy, we know with equal accuracy when it is likely to reach landfall but we cannot really predict where it will cross the coast.
There are so many variables in the existence of a hurricane that the very movement over the coast can change the direction and ferocity of the storm and that is something that we can’t predict.
However if an ice cube goes on the fire there is only one variable and that is the length of time that it takes to melt.
Sadly there are many more variables in the lives of people and that can make reaction to a situation more likely to be unpredictable rather than predictable.
A member of my Vistage Chief Executive’s peer group recently had this experience when a senior member of the management team blew up at a suggestion of change and totally refused to accept or even discuss it.
It was even more odd because all the others in the team accepted the change almost without discussion and agreed that it would be better for them and for the business.
All of this is a rather convoluted route to the acceptance or otherwise of change and it is one of the great predictables that something unpredictable will happen when we try to impose change in a situation.
All logic and good sense flies out of the window. Battle lines are drawn and positions harden. That dreadful cry of “it’s a matter of principle” is heard on the land.
The fact is that the imposition of change can bring sensible people to a state of frothing fury when a little sensible discussion in a calm environment should put the whole thing happily to rest.
When logic becomes convoluted however we can often finish up in entrenched positions. The question is, do we go into negotiation mode and try to pacify the disbeliever or do we point out that the majority has accepted the change and we are going ahead irrespective of one person’s non-acceptance?
It is a very difficult path to tread. It will often devolve on the value of the individual to the business, the possible reaction of the majority and the overall need for the change to be made in the first place.
The final unpredictable is how the individual will react when told that the change is going through and what is the likely outcome for the business.
The problem is that very few people act like ice cubes. Hurricane reaction is much more likely and it is up to the leader to try to anticipate what might happen and make provision for any and possibly the worst-case scenario.
It is the time for the leader to take hold of the situation and make decisions, painful or otherwise, that will allow the business to develop and grow irrespective of some who react badly.
That will need another and probably big decision by the leader.
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