Burst of Innovation – How to Get Legacy Thinkers On Board With Change

How to Get Legacy Thinkers On Board With Change

Legacy thinkers. Almost all organizations have them, and we have to deal with them to get things done. They are the people who have years of experience, the people who have “been there, done that”, the people who may feel like they’re holding the rest of us back.


Whether they’re stuck in the mindset of “this is how it’s always been done” or they’re reliving their glory days of years past, or they’re just shutting down innovation because it means doing something new and/or different – it may feel like we’re constantly hitting a brick wall when we deal with these legacy thinkers. 


However, we need to find a way to get them on board with change. Here are four strategies to help them get behind the innovation you’re trying to create.



Have some empathy


Put yourself in the shoes of a legacy thinker. They often have years of experience, or they have had a string of successes and a track record in a particular area. To them, you coming in with a new or innovative idea can make them feel like everything they’re doing (and have done) is irrelevant. When you’re trying to do things completely differently and shake things up, they may start to feel like their relevancy is on thin ice, which can be difficult for them to deal with. 


Their attitudes may be frustrating and annoying, but remember, it comes from a place of fear and insecurity. That’s why getting legacy thinkers on board with change has to start with showing them some empathy, and recognizing that this time of change may be difficult for them too.



Honor past work


Change and innovation are important, but it is important to reflect on the fact that it was the work of the legacy thinkers that got us to where we are today. Their work in the past is what led to success, and that is worthy of recognition. We need to honor the work that they have done and the experience that they have because we all have egos and want to feel valued. Start the conversation about change and innovation by honoring what legacy thinkers have achieved in the past, and they will be more open to the future.



Connect the dots


What we often do with a new idea or strategy is to jump right in to say “we’re going in this new direction, this is what we’re doing next”. Unfortunately, this makes legacy thinkers feel like they are being shut down or left behind. Instead, what we need to do is to connect the dots between what they said or did with where you want to go. 


This is not about manipulation, but rather about saying out loud something you may already be thinking and that may be obvious to you. In a meaningful and authentic way, we need to show legacy thinkers how they have been the inspiration for the new direction or strategy forward. Because they have been included in the journey and they are now a part of the change that you are trying to create, these legacy thinkers will be more receptive to it, rather than rejecting or resisting it.



Include them


In any change or innovation effort, legacy thinkers feel like they are getting left behind, and their experience is not being valued. To change this mindset, and get them on your side, we need to include them – and we can do this with guided questions.


Legacy thinkers are likely to shut down new ideas and efforts to innovate – “that’s not the way we do it” and “we tried that in the past and it didn’t work” are common responses we get from them. When we are faced with that, guided questions are the best way to reframe the conversation and to move them into a mindset of change.


When we ask guided questions like “Why didn’t that work then?”, “What has changed since then that would allow it to work now?” and “What can we do differently to ensure success?”, we set the framework for reshaping their perceptions. Even more importantly, when we ask these guided questions to include them in our innovation efforts, we give them the chance to share their insights and make the innovation stronger.


The thing is, legacy thinkers can be frustrating to work with, but they bring with them a wealth of experience, expertise, and knowledge. They have seen things that we haven’t seen yet, and we need to leverage their strengths better to move our organizations forward. The four tools of having empathy, honoring their achievements, connecting the dots for them, and including them in the conversation by asking guided questions can help us tap into legacy thinkers as an asset, and help them go from being trapped in yesterday, to moving into the future.


Watch the video to learn how to get legacy thinkers on board with change.