Yes, But: The Surprising Secret For Embracing Change

As a leader or manager, you need to foster a team culture that’s open to change and even embraces it. But are YOU the biggest obstacle to creating this culture – even without realising it? The good news is you can turn this around easily – starting now.

How are you going with creating change in your team and in your organisation? I’ve been thinking about change a lot recently because I’ve been working with many leaders and managers, particularly in the AI space. AI has created a lot of external change, and many teams and leaders are looking at how to build their AI capability. I always say to them,

“It’s about people first and technology second. You can have all the technology in the world, but unless you get your people on board and build a culture where people are open to change, it’s impossible to build that AI capability.”

The same applies to any other kind of change.

I was running a workshop last week with a group of leaders – the executive team and their senior leaders – about building a culture of change. This wasn’t specifically about AI, but rather about building a culture of change in their organisation.

One activity we did is about identifying the obstacles to change. In this activity, I challenge leaders by saying,

“Maybe the biggest obstacle to change is YOU!”

Many people don’t think they are the obstacles to change, but they might be, often unintentionally. There are things they say that contribute to a culture that suppresses change and diminishes innovation, and they don’t even realise they’re doing it.

For example …

As a leader or manager, have you ever said any of these things when somebody suggest an idea?

“We tried that once, but it didn’t work.”
“That’s not part of your job.”
“Our customers won’t like it.”
“Senior management won’t like it.”
“Where’s the business case for this?”

All of these things might be legitimate, and as a leader or a manager, it’s part of your responsibility to consider them.

But every time you say that, the other person hears, “Yes, but”.

“Yes, but … we tried it once, and it didn’t work.”
“Yes, but … it’s not part of your job.”
“Yes, but … blah blah blah blah blah.”

In other words, you’re immediately creating an obstacle.

The next time, they might try again, and get another “yes, but”.
If they’re persistent, they might try again, and get another “yes, but”.

And then they give up.

If you keep doing it, that spreads through the whole team, and becomes part of your culture.

“Yes, but” can be one of the biggest obstacles to change in your team.

The good news is you can turn this around.
Using “yes, but” itself!

Here’s how.

Imagine a situation where somebody suggests an idea, and you’re tempted to reply (for example):

“We tried that once and it didn’t work.”

Now, say “yes, but” – but to the objection, not the idea.

For example,

“Yes, but that’s when we were a much smaller organisation.”
“Yes, but that’s before the regulations changed.”
“Yes, but that’s when we had a more risk-averse management.”
“Yes, but that’s before we had external investors from outside.”

See how this works? You find as many reasons as possible why that objection might no longer be valid.

Try this now. You don’t have to wait for it to actually happen. Think about the times when you’ve said “Yes, but” and do this exercise to find objections to the objection.

The next time you’re tempted to immediately object to an idea, you’ll be a bit more open to change.

Try this yourself by downloading my worksheet about removing obstacles to change. You’ll see the ten most common obstacles to change, and you can do this exercise in your head. Download it, share it with other leaders in your team, and maybe even share it with your team members.

And if you’d like me to help you build a culture of change in your team, I’d love to have a chat.


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