What To Learn About Change Communication From The Walking Dead. There are millions of people who watch AMC’s The Walking Dead. In case you do not here is the story in a nutshell; the program is based on a graphic novel series about a small group of people with nothing in common other than they survived a global pandemic and want to remain alive. They are victimzed by zombies (known as ‘walkers’ in the series) and gangs of other survivors.
Lately the group was accepted into a walled community south of Washington D.C. called Alexandria. The veterans of this sustainable and upwardly mobile community have been spared the grief and violence the new world has because of the location and enormous and well constructed walls.
Rick Grimes, a former law enforcement official, is a veteran survivor and has seen the worst of the post apocolytic world. He believes (rightly) that the inhabitants of Alexandria are living on borrowed time. That they will be killed by ‘walkers’ (who swarm by the thousands) or by one of the other violent, roving gangs of survivors. He wants to teach the people of Alexandria how to make it in the real world. With that, here is the connection to change communications and what the rest of us can learn.
- New people are suspect. Grimes and his group are only accepted into Alexandria after passing a battery of interviews and the approval of Alexandria’s leadership. They are housed together, not allowed to have weapons or leave the grounds. New is different, hard to get used to, and suspicious. New means change and no one likes to change whether in the office, the plant, the shop floor or Alexandria.
- New ideas are usually rejected. If you work in change communications or just try to have a new idea you have already heard, ‘that’s not the way we do it here’ or ‘why do we need to change, everything was going great until you showed up.’ Grimes wants weapons training and regular patrols to watch for walkers or looters. If you have worked in change communication and been outnumbered in the workplace, you know how isolating this is. Even with the support of company leadership (which Rick Grimes has too) you know that when those leaders are out of site it is very difficult to get the troops to even consider doing something new, nevermind adopting it. Very few support Grimes ideas.
- Passive aggressive resistance. The people of Alexandria pretend to be interested in Grimes’ ideas, but they do not pretend very hard. In fact, behind his back several conspire to try and kill him. The leader of the passive aggressive resistance is the local doctor (who abuses his wife and children and Grimes has a thing for the wife, but let’s not get too deep into that) who openly opposses Grimes. In the end, Grimes kills the doctor which for the workplace is analogous to firing someone. Grimes tried to work things out with the doctor and change leaders will try with the passive aggressive people too. But the lesson for the workplace is that there are times when firing someone is the only thing to do. There are plenty of people who will convince themselves and anyone else who will listen that theirs is a righteous cause. Horsefeathers. The unknown and adapting to change is scary and uncomfortable. No one wants to be scared or uncomfortable. While a rational person would try to adapt remember that humans are not rational. The rational part of the human brain is the newest and least evolved. The emotional parts are far more evolved and that is why people react emotionally. It will not end with the firing/killing as those people will always have followers. Instead of seeing the logic of ‘addition by subtraction’ people will get mad and seek revenge.
- Stay the course. In spite of the hostility directed at him, Grimes continues to teach the hapless Alexandrians how to survive, and takes direct action in the fight to outlast the zombie hoard. In the office, do like Grimes does. Stay focused on your goals. Be approachable and offer to teach the willing but do not negotiate. Negotiations in change communications will open the door to more and more exceptions. You do not want that and the people who hired you do not either. Remain unphased by whiners, moaners and complainers. Reward those who adapt and change. And make both firing and rewarding very visible.
- It is not enough to be right. Remember that in the resistance to change movement with the attendant emotion attached, being right will not matter. In fact direct challenges often lead to more resistance. People double down on the ideas they have held for so long. The Alexandrians are starting to see the logic of what Grimes is trying to accomplish for them. But this has taken several episodes. Take the lesson, stay the course and eventually the rest of the group will catch one. Just give them time.
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