Navigate Change and Keep Your Business Moving Forward

How to negotiate with naysayers, implement change and win at the “yeah, but” game.

In my last blog, we talked about “isms,” those colorful sayings people use to make their point. I have a few of my own “isms” that I’ve used with my teams over the years, usually to point out the thought processes that inhibit companies from becoming more efficient and effective. For businesses with tight margins like janitorial and security contractors, finding ways to become more efficient is one of the only ways to improve revenues and see continued growth. So, to effectively introduce change that drives efficiency and moves your business forward, let’s talk about the “yeah, but” game.

How the game works

The “yeah, but” game works something like this: your company has decided to implement something new. It could be new ERP software, a new process or even something as simple as a new coffee maker. What the new thing is doesn’t matter because the rules of the “yeah, but” game are the same regardless of what change is taking place.

The interaction starts with the announcement of the change and how it benefits them. This sparks a return communication from a naysayer who says, “Well, yeah, that might work, but….” The change champion replies to this return, explaining how the change still works even considering the naysayer’s exception. The naysayer again responds with, “Yeah, but I have a second exception which renders your change useless.” If the change champion is savvy, they stop the game here by explaining that exceptions will be dealt with as they arise but aren’t the driving force behind the change. On the other hand, the change champion might decide to continue the game for one final round by trying to respond again to how the change can handle the naysayer’s exception. In either scenario, the game ends in a draw. Neither party has changed his or her mind, and the change you’re trying to implement is going to be met with resistance and is less likely to succeed. That can be disastrous to a huge effort like an organization-wide software implementation.

What the naysayer is really communicating when they say “Yeah, but,” is “No.” The “but” negates whatever came before it, so by saying, “Yeah, but,” they’re really saying no, I don’t want to do this, it won’t work for me, it won’t be able to handle my very special situation so therefore the whole thing won’t work. To use another “ism,” they’re throwing the baby out with the bath water.

How to win the game

So how does a company that wants to implement a change do so in the face of naysayers? In other words, how do you win the “yeah, but” game? What we’re really talking about is change management, and it’s common for employees to be concerned about a change, especially one that impacts their routines like a new software system. Even if the routine is cumbersome and time-consuming, like paper-pushing and manual processes, it’s at least comfortable. Change makes everyone uncomfortable. It’s how we manage it — or win at the “yeah, but” game — that matters.

First, remember that if your solution meets the 80/20 criteria — meaning that it satisfies the business requirements 80 percent of the time — then you’re most of the way there. The remaining 20 percent requires a workaround, but those are the exceptions to the norm.

Second, it’s important to let the naysayer give voice to relevant and high-frequency exceptions, so you can develop useful and applicable solutions. Low-frequency exceptions don’t need attention because they just don’t happen enough to invest the time, money and resources to develop a solution. I’ve witnessed companies develop workarounds to avoid a one-time occurrence that bogged down systems and processes, defeating the whole point of the change. The better strategy is to fix whatever caused the one-time exception, so it can simply be eliminated.

Change the game

The “yeah, but” game isn’t fun or productive to businesses trying to manage change effectively and push the business forward. Sometimes, the game helps us arrive at useful solutions, but mostly it distracts from the goal, not to mention harms the morale of the team. If you find yourself invited to a game of “yeah, but,” decline to play. Instead, help the naysayers learn the rules of a new game, maybe one called “yeah, we can.”