There is an Aesop Fable that illustrates the impact of trying to please everyone (see below). When you are leading change in your organization it can be tempting to make sure everyone is happy and on board with the change. Realize that is not going to happen, so stop and focus your efforts where you will get the most benefit.
People will fall into three groups when it comes to change:
- All for it from the start
- On the fence
- Against it no matter what
There are always a group of people who will agree to change quickly and easily. These are the folks that will help you get rolling. Be sure to keep them engaged and reward them for their support. They will require little effort to gain buy-in.
Then there is a group of people who will not agree to change. These are the nay-sayers in the organization. Once the change is in place and proven successful they may come around, but rarely before then. Often these folks will opt out of the change and leave the organization during the process. It’s tempting to spend time convincing them to get on board. However, this is a waste of your time. Keep them informed of what is happening and how it will impact them. Hold them accountable for the new processes/ procedures that affect them. You can’t shut them out but you can’t win them over either.
The group on the fence is by far the biggest percentage of the organization. They will be open to the new ideas; they just want to see if it will work and will last. They may be on the fence because there has been too many change initiatives that are “flavor of the month” activities with no staying power. Why commit to something that will be different next month. This is the group you need to concentrate on getting of the fence and on your side. Since they can be almost 50% of the organization then they have a huge impact on the long-term success of the change you are making.
So what to do? Here are basic change management steps that will help you get through to the fence sitters.
- Have a clear vision. Be able to articulate a clear picture of the new world and why it matters.
- Communicate often, and then even more. Communicating the purpose of the change, the impact on people, the progress being made and any successes is critical. When you think you have said everything to everyone, start over again.
- Get people involved. Obviously if half of the organization is sitting on the fence then you will need to have some of them helping implement the change. Bring them in and make sure they feel valued as team members.
- Listen to concerns. You must find out what concerns people about the change. You may have answers for some of the concerns, you may not. Listening will give people the chance to be heard. Also, you may identify obstacles that were unknown to you previously.
- Get feedback. Part of the listening process needs to be a structured method to get feedback on how things are going, what impact the change is having on people and how it can be improved. Again, ideas may surface from the sidelines that will improve the situation and help diffuse problems.
- Celebrate quick wins. Early on find areas of the project that can provide quick wins. Celebrate these publically and recognize the efforts of those involved. This will make it attractive to people to get involved.
Overall, remember that any change will trigger emotional reactions within the organization. This will mean as the leader you must address those issues to ensure success. The six steps above will help you do that and get the fence sitters on your side.
The miller, his son and the ass (Aesop Fable):
A miller and his son were taking their ass to sell at market, when they passed a group of girls, who laughed at how foolish the miller was to have an ass and yet be walking. So the miller put his son on the ass. Further down the road they passed some old people who scolded the miller for allowing his young son to ride, when he should be riding himself. So the miller removed his son and mounted the ass himself. Further along the road, they passed some travellers who said that if he wanted to sell the ass the two of them should carry him or he’d be exhausted and worthless. So the miller and his son bound the ass’s legs to a pole and carried him. When they approached the town the people laughed at the sight of them, so loud that the noise frightened the ass, who kicked out and fell off a bridge into the river and drowned. The embarrassed miller and son went home with nothing, save the lesson that you will achieve nothing by trying to please everyone.