You Can Teach Old Dogs New Tricks

I just gave a talk on leadership for the 21st century and was asked a question about how to get two very different groups of people to talk to each other. The one group of employees is new in the organization, eager to offer new ideas and to embrace change. The other group is the “old guard”, set in their ways, resistant to change. Members of the second group are experienced, have built the organization and it’s systems and feel that they know what works and what does not.

This is a leader’s nightmare is to try to get these two groups to work together.

It is not going to happen with coercion or trying to indoctrinate the new group to the old ways.

It won’t happen by trying to force-feed the established group some type of compliance training to get them to embrace new ideas, drop their biases and to toe the line.

Curiosity will work.

According to the latest Harvard Business Review article on Diversity, the authors show that getting people together to explore challenges and to find ways to work together, no matter the project or challenge, delivers results beyond what is expected. People find out that others are motivated by similar things, and will find themselves supporting each other, diminishing the importance of differences.

When people are asked to volunteer to mentor unfamiliar groups, a sense of pride and promoting the mentees happens naturally over time.

Added to that, if there is a level of social accountability, or desire to look good, there is a shift in behavior. No one wants to look like they are old fashioned or stuck in their ways. If people know that their behavior will be displayed for all to see, rigid ideas start to crumble and new ideas start being looked at with more interest.

To summarize: If you have two groups of people with different ideas and one group appears more rigid, get them to learn from the other group by putting them together, by getting them to be mentors for the group they do not necessarily accept and make it known that their behavior towards the other group will be made public. Now people have the choice – change their biases or not feel as confident that they will be accepted.

If you are faced with a similar situation, let me know and I’ll help you to get your old dogs to learn new tricks.