I just ran over to the grocery store to pick up a couple things. While there I took part in one of my favourite activities … making people around me uncomfortable. I’ve found it’s actually not hard to do when you’re standing in the checkout line. All you have to do is put your stuff down but don’t move the plastic separator between the other person’s stuff and yours. You don’t even have to crowd them, I’ve seen this work with more than a foot between our orders. Then step back and watch the reaction.  They start by looking around sheepishly as they wait for you to move the bar. You can see the hesitation as they wonder if you’ll find them rude. Finally when the sweat starts breaking from their brow most people dive for that coveted hunk of plastic.

There’s nothing simple in helping people improve the way they work. Much like the people in the grocery line, what is perfectly acceptable to me might drive someone else nuts!  For me the plastic bar is a very minor thing, and I really don’t care if it’s there. I really don’t understand why the lack of that separator would matter to people. But the simple matter is people are complex creatures and there is no right or wrong response.

If you have the opportunity to help people learn new things or change how they work .. don’t discount the little things. When I’m working with people I am always conscious of how they are responding to what we’re changing. When I sense discomfort or resistance I start looking for the underlying causes. Sometimes I’ve found it’s the little things which are causing the biggest issues. Pick your battles and make sure the things you are pushing on are worth the risk of stressing people over. I’d hate to fail at the overall goal for the sake of some small annoyance.

Above all my #1 recommendation is to get the people to actually help define the changes. Give up those traditional views where management is the only one qualified to define how the work is done. When you think about it the people who know the work best is those closest to it (that’s not you).

Then after a long day at work with some great success improving how work is done … stop to pick up a loaf of bread and bag of milk. Leave the plastic separator bar in it’s rack and watch what happens!  It’s actually a fun way to kill a few minutes in the line and an interesting reflection on our society.

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