Solution Saturday: How to Convince the Older Generation to Change
The value of not changing is things stay the same. But, “If change is happening on the outside faster than on the inside, the end is in sight.” Jack Welch
I was asked at a recent speaking engagement in Chicago, “How can I convince the previous generation to change?”
The person asking the question represents the third generation in a family owned business. She is concerned about the danger of staying the same in a changing world.
Her elders are concerned about losing the past by choosing an untested future.
Fear of change:
Change means something is going away. The present, in it’s current state, will cease to exist. Additionally, the “not yet” aspect of change disquiets.
The combination of “going away” and “not yet” is powerful incentive to maintain the status quo.
How to convince the older generation to change:
- Respect that people must convince themselves to change. Pressure invites resistance.
- Explore the value of not changing. Why is it important not to change?
- Create reasons to change. Why is the present path unacceptable? Reasons must be meaningful to them. People change for their reasons, not yours.
- Don’t demonize the present. The previous generation gave themselves to build the present, don’t insult them. You can’t antagonize and influence at the same time.
- Appeal to their values. Take their perspective before pushing yours.
- Change in small ways that don’t “bet the farm.” Run a pilot program.
- Ask the previous generation for advice. Make them feel heard.
- Speak to the heart, use facts and figures to validate not convince.
- Don’t ask the previous generation to change. Ask them to support you as you lead change.
- Temper your enthusiasm. Passion may feel overwhelming to older people.
Bonus: Ask, “What can you teach me about leading change?
How might leaders convince the older generation to change?
This is so good at so many levels. A great Saturday evening read. As always, THANX!
Thanks Dayna. I appreciate your encouragement.
Such a good approach with your list… One important point consistent with the list is that change must be CONSIDERED, not autimatically done!!! It’s probable that change of some type will be needed; one of two possibilities (or both) are likely: either a problem has arisen within the organization needing attention or a need has arisen to grow the orginazation’s business.
And as always, the more everyone is involved, their values and thinking considered, the more likely the changes proposed will gain support
Thanks John. Your emphasis on engaging everyone is well taken and necessary. When we feel like outsiders we are reluctant to support what insiders suggest.
Listen to the old stories, and mine them for the dreams, vision, and passion that built the current reality. Then use their language to introduce change as a continuation and evolution of what has always been the drive and mission. “You guys have always taught me that we are a company that (fill in the blank). And I believe we can do better.”
Thanks Pastor. There’s real insight here. I find that people feel understood when we use their language, not ours.
When we know and understand the dreams of others we have opportunity to align with them. Perhaps changes can help the previous generation fulfill their dream in new ways.
Great job, Dan. It’s important for those folks who resist change to be involved, and I’ve found it’s not always us ‘old dogs’ who resist, some of the ones from the middle resist it as well. As my father-in-law used to say, “If you aren’t moving forward then you are moving backward”.
Thanks Jeanne. Yes. Get people involved. It can be easy to push “resistors” away. That can make matters worse.
Your father-in-law was on the money. 🙂
Concise and very helpful post on this topic! Insightful comments as well. I worked for my last employer for over 27 years before retiring, long enough to go from being one of the “young guys” to being one of the “old guys.” Being brought in initially as a change agent in a time of great upheaval, over the years I had to guard against reflexively defending the status quo that I had helped build. That meant working hard at listening to everyone, and constantly monitoring and evaluating internal and external influences both for and against change. Steady evolutionary rather than revolutionary change is best -unless a revolution is absolutely necessary. Building on an honorable and successful past was for me more rewarding than destroying the old to start over.
Thanks Jim. Love your use of evolutionary vs. revolutionary change. It is a great perspective for you people who want to lead change.
Wonderful suggestions! Prior to coaching, I worked (primarily) with the older generation as a low vision therapist. It was always interesting to see how’d they respond to me as a 20/30 something with my fancy low vision tools and techniques. Learning from each other was always the easiest way in. They had stories for days, and were always more willing to hear me after they got to reminisce.
Thanks Bold. “Learn from each other…” Bingo.
Another great post Dan. I especially appreciate the statement that fear of what is known going away, coupled with the fact that what is to come is unknown can be a powerful force against change. Once leaders understand this emotional fact, we can be better equipped to see change get the support needed to transform our teams and organizations.
Thanks Jay. Yes, leading through change includes answering fear.
I think we have to be careful of not stereotyping the “older generation.” I know of several instances within our organization where it is the “younger generation,” that is rigid, unwilling to change for the good of the entire organization.
I would add that we can’t assume to know what someone else is thinking. Ask them why they are reluctant and keep asking the deeper whys until the real answer is revealed. Often the answer is not what we think. Once we know the real reason it can be addressed and honored.
As we talk about change (it is inevitable), how important is it to talk about what is NOT changing. The customer is important, ethics will remain high, continue to be a great work team, etc. Those basics should remain consistent no matter what change occurs.
So, when talking about change, do we need to talk about underlying principles of a company?
With regard to #1, #3, and #5: Aristotle said, “A fool gives me his reasons. A wise man convinces me with my own.”
Compelling for me is the opportunity cost. What will we miss if we don’t change? What’s at risk? show me that and let’s talk.
Thank you! I believe this was my question at market and it propels my next question: After working with employees for years you reach a point where you can often predict their opinion or next move. Is it still beneficial or perhaps more damaging to ask their opinion if you suspect you will not heed their advice? For example, we went to an automated ordering system. I spoke with each department manager and store manager separately and just listened before making the decision. Ultimately, the employees did not like the idea because it meant giving up a level of control although I decided it was best for our business. I was thankful to have a better understanding of the way but I knew it would be met with resistance. Did I somehow damage those relationships by making it appear that the employees held control over that decision and then choosing a different direction? And yes …. it was the best thing we ever did as a company and ultimately freed up time for employees to me more effective.
Great article. With regards to change, we must also discuss what can be gained. Change can typically be framed as a loss especially if there is fear present; however, it can also be framed as a gain that makes resources available to more people and not just a select few.
How might leaders convince the older generation to change?
Make it easy (easier) for them. Very few people are going to change when it’s a difficult ask. Help them along the way with small goals, achievable milestones, and a path that’s filled with opportunities instead of challenges. Small changes over a long period of time are better and longer lasting than immediate, dramatic change.
Meet them where they are. Explain the problems in terms of something they know well and don’t expect them to be experts in this modern problem and even more modern solution. My grandparents were children in the post-war depression and saved everything, even seemingly useless things. I used this story to help explain to them why they should start recycling. Remember how you held on to an object even when you didn’t know why or it didn’t bring you any value? Recycle things even if you don’t know why and even if it doesn’t bring you any value.
Show empathy and don’t be selfish. Explain the value for them. Why are we asking them to change? Is it solely for our own benefit? While they have fewer years to capitalize on the benefits, their change (and the result) should create a better life for them, too.