By Corpwrite Strategy's Jeremy Plint
Is there a single business that’s not going through significant change? I don’t know of one. In fact, Change seems to be the only constant there is in business. However, change isn’t about businesses, it’s about the people in those businesses. The best business strategy in the world will die on the vine if it doesn’t address individuals and their reality. No matter how well managed or how positive the change is perceived, you’ll rarely please everyone. Inevitably, some will react by simply disengaging while others may actively undermine the initiative because they can’t move from their entrenched positions. So how should we best manage people in these situations?
The rule of thirds
I'm a believer in the 'rule of thirds' which says a third of people will get on board from the start, a third need to be convinced and a third will hold out altogether. We see it all the time when we address business groups. Firstly, you see the guys who are engaged: already on the bus waiting to go, eyes bright with positive energy. Then there’s the fence-sitters, waiting to hear ‘what’s in it for them’. And finally the hold-outs who confront you as if you’re about to sell their first-born into slavery. So which group do you focus on?
Embrace the fans
The temptation is to focus on the first group; the fans, who hang on your every word. They will read your notification emails and come to your change meetings. They have a very important role to play, especially in the early stages when you’re building forward momentum.
Empathise with the ‘hold-outs’
If you enjoy a challenge, what about the ‘hold-outs’? Sway them and you might even build majority support. I recently spoke with a senior leader whose business needs to change in order to build ongoing success. He was intending to target this group as a means of ‘refreshing the organisation’. Whilst this may be warranted, it can build resentment. In fact, you can easily sway the fence-sitters that alternative views and healthy debate are not welcomed here.
So who are these hold-outs? Firstly, let’s not label them as villains. They’re often passionate and committed; after all it’s not always easy to hold a minority position. They generally have deep-seated, entrenched views on most things. In fact, it’s this ‘black & white’ view that paints them into a corner, making it difficult to concede another point of view without losing face. They can be painful; they have no filter so they tell it ‘like it is’. And they’re often the conscience of the business, so every organisation needs a few of them.
Focus on the ‘fence-sitters’
You need to address all three groups but my advice is to focus more on the middle group; the fence sitters. Why? Think about the recent presidential election: It wasn’t the diehard fans who sent Trump to the White House; it was the middle-of-the-road, fence-sitters who wanted to send a message. Change is a game of momentum and according to Business Performance Pty Ltd, “Overcoming the natural inertia in organizations requires the constant application of the forces for change.” They believe Newton’s law can be directly applied and they’ve created the ‘three laws of change management’ to help initiate and manage change. If you can find what it will take to convince the fence-sitters to get on board, you can maintain momentum. It will take less effort to overcome their ‘change-inertia’ than the hold-outs.
Groom your evangelists
Every project needs evangelists; people that are willing to put their name to the project. It’s invariably better to recruit evangelists from the fence-sitters. They’re believable, more influential and they can explain why they chose to convert to the faith. If you do a good job here, you’re well on the way to a majority and a successful project.
Find the balance
Individuals need the opportunity to provide input and know their views have been acknowledged. You need to find the balance between creating a democracy where everything is negotiable, and a dictatorship where they have no say at all. Inevitably there will be those that can’t make the journey. Don’t just leave them to mooch around and spread negativity. Help them to the point where their decision is clear but don’t make it personal.
Communicate, communicate and then communicate
Above keep communicating with the business, both formally and informally so they see the commitment and momentum building. Address issues early and clear up misinformation as soon as it comes up. Change is not the problem; it's how it's managed that causes most of the problems. Identifying and managing these three groups, will go a long way to making your change successful.
Luke Maddison and Jeremy Plint founded Corpwrite Strategy after many years in marketing roles with brands such as Canon, CCH, Ricoh and Garuda Indonesia.