Change Management: Lessons From Dr. Seuss

AS A COACH to ambitious, pro-active leaders, I often find they quickly embrace change themselves but don’t know how to bring along their colleagues or staff. So how do you get everyone on board the change train that is gaining speed and heading out of the station?

In the children’s book “Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr. Seuss, an anonymous character refuses to accept an offering of green eggs and ham. “You’ll like it” says Sam. After much hesitation, the character finally agrees to try them. It turns out he absolutely loves them. So what gets in the way of people accepting something that’s new or different?

Change, whether it is seen as good or bad, is disruptive because it challenges the status quo. As human beings, we tend to like things the way they are. It’s comfortable. It’s familiar. It’s yellow eggs, not green ones.

So how do you, as a leader, get people’s “buy in” to the changes that are necessary for your organization’s survival and success? Here are three reasons people resist change and tactics to turn them around.

1. Surprise, surprise!
Managers frequently make this mistake when introducing change. They wait until all the decisions are made and then spring them on unsuspecting employees. The first response, of most people to something totally new and unexpected, is resistance.

Give people advance notice! Then, they can have time to adjust their thinking and, begin planning for the change.

2. Loss of control.
Change is exciting, when it’s done by us; threatening, when it’s done to us. If people feel out of control, they are more likely to resist by excess complaining, by dragging their feet or by becoming territorial.

Get people involved! Although the decision about the specific change has been made, those affected can still have input in its implementation. They can decide how to arrange the office or figure out lunch rotation.

3. Excess uncertainty.
A clear destination is necessary to guide the journey of change. Many change efforts falter because of confusion over where we’re going, why we’re going there and how are we going to get there. If people don’t understand where they’re headed then any change will seem dangerous. It’s like walking off a cliff blindfolded.


Communicate! Provide information at every step of the change process. Also, by dividing a big change into small steps, change will seem less risky. People can then focus on one step at a time and feel they’re not being asked to take that big leap.

Change creates uncertainty for people about their job, their responsibilities and their livelihood. While some may zealously embrace the change, most get very uncomfortable when they are moved from their comfort zone to a new place. Therefore, people must understand the reason for change; the process of change; and their role in change. If not, anxiety mounts, trust declines and rumors fly. So take care of the “me” issues quickly so people can turn their focus from resistance to commitment.


Marcia Zidle
Marcia Zidle
Marcia Zidle, The Smart Moves Coach, is a national known board certified coach and keynote leadership speaker who guides organizations that are planning, or in the midst of, ambitious growth and change. As a career strategist, she works with professionals, managers and executives who want to build • shape • brand • change • vitalize their careers. She’s been selected by LinkedIn’s ProFinder as one of the best coaches for 2016!Her clients range from private owned businesses to mid-market companies to professional service firms to NGO’s. With 25 years of management, business consulting and international experience, she brings an expertise in executive and team leadership; employee engagement and innovation; personal and organization change; career building and development; emotional and social intelligence. Your Future Starts Now With Marcia!

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  1. Recall that old joke? I think I first saw it on the Flintstones. The baby won’t eat the food and gives you a really dirty look when you try to feed him. So you make airplane sounds, right? Make that food sound exciting that it would be great to eat that food. But this will not work with your baby, no. You’re baby still refuses to eat. So, what do you do? You take a taste of the food in front of him, and smile. Then take another spoonful. That’s when the baby will cry with outreached arms — wanting to get that food.

    Change in all it forms requires you to put your own skin in the game. You have to do the very same things you ask others to do. If you don’t, people, just like a baby with resistant every attempt of being spoon feed what you need to feed them.

  2. In spite of all efforts when a major change occurs, whether induced internally or externally there is always some resistance and fear. If well managed then the percent of personnel falling into that “fear” group is much less. However, it should be noted that when employees are fearful, they do some really bizarre things. So, one rule is to expect the unexpected when change is happening.

    • Great point Ken. I’ve found that there are three categories of employees when it comes to adapting to workplace change.

      1. Advocates:
      15 to 20% of employees. They already understand the change effort. Therefore, praise them publicly, support them as needed and get out of their way.
      2. Don’t get it: 15 to 20% of employees.
      They resist change at every opportunity and may sabotage change efforts. They are tied to the past. These are not bad people, just no longer compatible with the organization. Unfortunately, too many managers spend way too much time trying to convert them to the new program.
      3. Moveable middle: 60 to 70% of employees.
      They are on the fence, not sure if they can or will buy into the new program. This is the audience a manager must spend most of his time and energy. The moveable middle can be swayed with the right leadership. Combined with the first group, you have a critical mass to implement the change

  3. The truth is – change is absolute. It will happen. I like the way you’ve offered a tactic to deal with the resistance modes. As leaders, we know communication is important. Sometimes over-communication can be detrimental to progress, but balanced and concise communication is the key. Over communication occurs when conversations take place often and in pockets where facts and feelings are disseminated with reduced accuracy. It becomes the Water Cooler version of the truth. Communicate often, but always the same message without editorializing. At the first sign that resistance is leading to employees gathering to feed each other’s anger, it’s time to pull the plug and put that concise communication into action.

    One thing I have found to be an irreplaceable asset is a communication plan. It works and it saves painful headaches in the process. Instead of keeping you up at night, it will be what gets you up in the morning.