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ATD Blog

Managing CAVE People During Times of Change

Friday, May 4, 2018

Change management and L&D share a vital end state: performance and behavior improvement or change. As business partners first, and learning professionals second, we are change agents. No matter the genesis of the change (technology, competitors, customers, leadership, or government and regulations), we must be ready to provide our stakeholders recommendations on how to manage reactions to change initiatives. The group that is of most concern for our stakeholders are not those that are in favor of or indifferent to the change initiative, but a relatively small but very influential group known as CAVE people: Citizens Against Virtually Everything.

In my experience over the last 16 years, I have informally observed that, generally speaking, those who are for the change make up roughly 20 percent of an organization’s employee base, CAVE people make up roughly 20 percent, and those who are indifferent make up the remaining 60 percent. I’ll address managing reactions from those for and indifferent to the change another day, but for now I’ll look at how organizations should manage reactions from the CAVE people in the ranks.

Every organization has CAVE people. I’m confident you have people in mind right now who you would classify as a CAVE person. These employees are not limited to an isolated change initiative. These are the employees who are opposed to every new initiative that is implemented. They are literally “against everything.”

As a change agent, it is your responsibility to bring perspective to this situation. This group only represents roughly 20 percent of the employee base, but it is the group your stakeholders are most concerned about. Why? Because CAVE people audibly express their displeasure to the roughly 60 percent of employees who are indifferent to the change. So how do you work with CAVE people during a change initiative?

Be Proactive

When planning your reaction strategy for CAVE people or any negative feedback, the first step is to plan for what those reactions could be, from whom, and when they will occur. Without knowing your audience and why they feel the change initiative is unlikely to succeed, you will have a hard time crafting a response to address the negative feedback and concerns.

Because many people feel a change in the workplace interferes with their autonomy, they feel a loss of control and become resistant. Make sure your stakeholders are aware of the possible negative feedback that could occur, why, and when they are likely to hear what comments. Change management timelines are not the same as those for project management—they go well beyond the project implementation. Ensuring you anticipate when feedback will occur and for how long can help stakeholders have an idea of what to expect so they will not overreact.


Ensure Your Communication of Change Initiatives Is Effective

You will not divert all negative feedback. No matter what you do to manage negative reactions to a change initiative, a few change-resistant employees will remain, and could negatively influence other employees as well. But your initial defense for CAVE people is to ensure you have a solid, well thought-out communication plan for your change initiative. You must answer the following questions in any and all change initiatives:

  • Why is the change happening? What is the driving force causing the change?
  • What is changing? (What is the new status quo?)
  • How is it changing?
  • When is the change taking place?
  • WIIFM? (What’s in it for me?)

If you effectively answer these questions in your communication plan as you ramp up to any change initiative, you should be able to win a good percentage of CAVE people and other change-resistant employees to your cause. Arming the naysayers with answers to the above questions could assuage a good number of fears and help them embrace the changes afoot. You might even turn the naysayers into advocates for the change!


CAVE Up, Not Out and Down

CAVE people are not necessarily a negative group to have around. Sometimes, CAVE people are more senior employees who have experience with peripheral norms within the organization. Because of this, they have real-world tactical knowledge of how change initiatives may be received and best implemented. It is the best use of “CAVE energy” to find opportunities for them to provide feedback “up” and not “out” (or worse, “down”). Communication and feedback channels must be made available for the CAVE people in the organization.

It is unprofessional to communicate opinion about change initiatives to those lower-ranking. Complaining “up” is the only professional way to provide feedback on change initiatives. Negativity can become toxic when complaints go “out” and “down”.

This starts with you—the leader. During any change initiative, using words like “they,” “them,” or “the Home Office,” all communicate that you, the leader, are not embracing the initiative. If you don’t support it, why should your people, particularly CAVE people? During all change initiatives, it is imperative that you find opportunities for communication and feedback channels for all employees, especially CAVE people—for they are never silent. If you don’t give them an opportunity to provide feedback “up,” they will CAVE “out” and “down.”

You cannot avoid negative feedback or comments during a change initiative; it’s not a matter of if you will get them. But by proactively managing reactions to change initiatives, you can ensure a more smooth and successful implementation.

About the Author

Scott Pitts has spent nearly two decades in the learning and organization development professions, 16 of which have been in the financial services industry. Prior to his current role as a learning strategist for a major financial services firm, he created and led a learning department for the largest bank in Missouri not headquartered in a metro market. Currently, he partners with executives to recommend firm-wide learning and organization development solutions. Scott has performed and led nearly all learning functions as defined by ATD.

Scott is also an associate adjunct professor of training and development, as well as organization development and change, at the Walker School of Business at Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri. Scott is also serving as a captain (promotable) in the United States Army Reserves for the 7th Psychological Operations Group in Mountain View, California. Scott is active in serving the Army and his local community by training local educators, clergy, and behavioral health professionals on suicide intervention. He also serves on the Business Education Advisory Board for Mineral Area College in Park Hills, Missouri, where he advises department leaders on curriculum enhancements to train future business leaders in Southeast Missouri.

Scott's idea of good self-care is sitting on his porch on his six acres of Missouri woods with cold beverage in hand, Darius Rucker playing, and his kids exploring the woods.

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