“Change is hard. It’s even harder when you’re stupid.”
This quote is often attributed to the actor John Wayne, famous for his cowboy image and attitude. Even though my research indicates that the attribution is most likely bogus, I think the quote is a good reminder for leaders. I believe that even smart leaders can face challenges trying to get people on board with something new.
To that end, here are four nuggets of change management wisdom that I’ve gleaned from my research over the past several months. Think of them as fuel for your Leadership Stupidity-a-Nator.
Don’t confuse “reluctance” with “resistance”. When you listen to folks’ concerns about the change, listen for this distinction: are they feeling hesitant or opposed? Their hesitation is based in unanswered questions: “How will this affect me personally?” or “I don’t understand the details of the change.” Opposition takes the form of “This will never work” or “What a dumb idea!” Understanding this distinction will help you address their issues appropriately.
Be respectful to dissenters. According to change management expert John Kotter, becoming frustrated with a person who seems to be derailing your idea is counterproductive. Not only do you risk getting into a debate or stand-off, you are also signaling to others who are watching the exchange that you’re not open to varying viewpoints.
Leverage opinion leaders. According to the authors of Influencer, nearly 85% of your organization will not fully adopt a large-scale change until a select group of opinion leaders do so. Learn how to find the opinion leaders in your organization and get them on board. They’re influencing opinions in your organization whether your want them to or not.
Accept that not everyone will get on board. Face it, dissatisfaction is part of the deal for change agents. No matter your best efforts, some people just aren’t going to sign up. Even so, do your best to get as many as you can behind your initiative, because the more grass roots support you have, the better your chances of having the change succeed. Just know that at a certain point, there is a law of diminishing returns on trying to get those last few hold-outs on board.
Give these four tactics a try and see if they don’t help create positive change in your organization.