The most common complaint from leaders of transformation is that one of their key stakeholders “simply does not get it” – “it” being the need for change or the understanding of the approach. How can this be? Surely the need for change is clear, the concept is not hard to understand. The implication of such a complaint is that the fault lies with the stakeholder. This, of course is invariably not the case.
The vast majority of people come to work eager to make a positive difference. However, companies have evolved to put barriers in the way of enthusiasm. If there were no barriers the required change would have happened already. The job of the transformation leader is to remove the barriers thereby releasing the passion of the people in the company. If people appear to hesitate, barriers remain and the transformation leader has more work to do. You can follow 3 steps to ensure everyone in your company gets on board your transformation program.
People will resist change while there are barriers in place. If you do not witness any resistance then you are not looking hard enough or are not really changing anything.
When Rock and Roll emerged in the 1950s it was seen by some as “the music of the devil”, when Bob Dylan changed from acoustic to electric guitar his fans called him a traitor and when Stravinsky premiered the controversial “Rite of Spring” in 1913 there were riots in the streets of Paris. Change will always cause a reaction therefore don’t be surprised by it. When resistance emerges you should celebrate because it will give you the opportunity to address it head on.
Identify the barriers
Resistance is due to real or perceived barriers. You can only deal with the barriers if you know what they are. Some people will voice objections to change and some will not. Those that do will often cover their real concerns with a facade of fabricated issues. Getting to the real causes of resistance can therefore be tricky. I have found the best approach is to actively listen to people who are demonstrating resistance thereby building empathy for their concerns. By listening and playing back their point of view you are likely to gain an understanding and also break down the first barrier – the feeling of not being heard and understood.
Many concerns usually are underpinned by fear. Fear of losing power, fear of presenting a contrary view, fear of being punished for not meeting next quarter’s numbers, fear that I will be criticised by my immediate supervisor who is also resisting. When fear is the driver, the stakeholder may not be as forthcoming with the real reason. In this case it might be better to speak to the people who know the stakeholder best to get a deep understanding.
Deal with the barriers
How to address each issue will be determined by the nature of the issue. The good news is that most fall into common patterns. I have listed some of the techniques that we have developed to address the most common themes.
Ensure that the end state is perceived to be vivid and compelling.
People are only going to agree to come on the journey with you if they understand the destination and it aligns with their beliefs.
10x your communication
Transformation leaders (including myself) tend to vastly under-estimate the communication required to secure understanding and buy-in. Take the effort you think you require to communicate then multiply it by 10. You should continually test for understanding and buy-in and refine your communications accordingly.
Co-create the program with as wide an audience as possible.
There is no better way to create buy-in than making it everyone’s idea. This is best done by working with the extended top team to create the vision and high level approach and then getting input from across the company. The best programs allow each area to contextualise the vision and approach to be relevant for their own areas.
Showcase the early supporters of the program.
People will be more willing to get on board if they see people they respect leading the way. Therefore make sure early support is highly visible across the company. Make videos, share interviews and publish stories that showcase people who are onboard.
Use cognitive dissonance for the detractors.
By getting those less supportive to publicly show support for the program makes it very difficult for them to resist in private. You can ask seniors in the company to participate in townhalls where there is an expectation for them to show public support.
Ask to perform experiments where people are cynical.
If you encounter stakeholders who have deep cynicism about the approach, you can ask permission to run an experiment to determine the outcome. This is a less threatening approach as there is no obligation to commit until the results of the experiment are known.
Use governance to show sponsorship and align people.
Like most people I am not a great lover of meetings. I have spent a good portion of my career trying to figure out how to reduce the number and duration of meetings in my life. However there is one exception. When designing the governance around transformation programs I encourage longer, larger meetings. The reason for this is to show as many people as possible the sponsorship from the top and the progress being made. It does no harm to allow some healthy competition amongst departments by comparing progress league tables.
Expose the root causes of fear.
If fear is being created by a common theme, you can also use governance meetings to expose it in a safe way. You can include a specific agenda item to cover barriers and blockers. An update might be “ We have received feedback that many people are concerned that they are going to lose status as a result of the change”. By keeping it anonymous you provide safety whilst exposing the root cause.
Give up the credit (this is the tough one).
If you work for an organisation where end of year appraisals and performance assessments have an impact on pay, there is likely to be an informal system of “credit” in place. People will move to demonstrate that they deserve their share of “credit” for the good things that happen in the company. Come the end of the year they “cash in” their “credit” for a pay rise or bonus. As a leader of transformation you must give up your credit to others. You should avoid at all costs claiming that progress is down to your leadership, support and influence. If people see that credit is coming their way due to the transformation program they are more likely to get on board. I have found that the majority of people will give back some credit saying that they could not have done achieved what they did without the transformation team. I have also benefited from the fact that my own bosses were insightful enough to recognise my team’s contribution.
Influencing at all levels is the fifth essential habit of leading transformation. In previous blogs I have covered “Insistence on improvement”, “Intellectual Humility”, “Impatient Learning” and “Inciting a Movement”. There is one more to go in the series and if you would like it and any other posts sent to your inbox as soon as I publish it please enter your email address below.
Do leave a comment if you have other methods that help influence others to join the journey.