How to Lead Change (Hint: Target Eeyore First)
You know that great feeling, when you suddenly have an idea about how to fix something at your company or do something a new way? Brimming with excitement, you walk up to one of your employees and say “I think we should do this differently.”
Your employee looks at you a little sideways, mumbles “uh hunh” a few times and then starts to list out, quite politely, all the reasons why it might be hard to make that change, and why things are done the way they are. Your bubble is burst. Your energy slowly drains and you wonder if you are ever going to get your company to the next level.
It’s not easy making real change in any organization--regardless of size. Yes, small companies benefit from being small, because there are fewer people to convince and fewer constituencies to please, but they still can suffer from inertia.
What can you do to make real change in your company?
Use Data: Most entrepreneurs have an insight that helps them lead or create their company. They see a pattern or recognize something others do not, and then they build a company around it. It’s only later that they find out they need to deal with a bevy of logistical issues to keep their company running. When they have their next insight, that vision runs smack into those logistical hurdles.
Suggestion: Take your idea and add data before you introduce it into your organization. Data will not only back up the change you want to make, but also help your employees and other stakeholders understand and (hopefully) embrace your vision for change more easily. Data will also enable you to test your idea before acting on it.
Build Consensus: Entrepreneurial vision for change is often an independent exercise, where you alone come up with the idea that will make your company better. But you can’t implement it alone.
Suggestion: Engage your team and have them work on the problem you are trying to solve. If your idea is strong enough, it will survive this kind of analysis. If you build consensus in the right ways, input from your employees will improve your idea for change.
Target Eeyore: When I read Winnie the Pooh to my son, I always enjoyed doing the Eeyore voice. “I don’t think we could do that…” (Poor Eeyore always sees the glass half empty and no hope in sight.) A child’s bedtime story is one thing, but when you run into Eeyore in your company, it isn’t quite so enjoyable. You need to have a strategy to manage him or her.
Suggestion: Target Eeyore early. Get that person information before you provide it to others. Usually we tolerate Eeyores because they have specialized expertise or provide valuable balance to our entrepreneurial schemes. Take advantage of their inertial hesitance by running things by them early, and providing data to get their input and eventual buy in.
Persevere: Don’t stop because your initial idea generates pushback. That excitement you feel can easily be extinguished by a few roadblocks chosen by those who want to preserve the status quo.
Suggestion: Consider your opponents’ feedback with an open mind. Think it over, and if possible, amend and make your idea for change even better.
You’ve made it this far because you made a change to please a customer or do something more efficiently. You are going to keep producing those ideas, which, if implemented, will make your company even better. Figure out how to best sell your ideas to your stakeholders--and take your company to the next level.
ED POWERS | Columnist | Head of Capital Access Funds, Bank of America
Based in New York, Ed Powers is a managing director and head of the Capital Access Funds team at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Capital Access Funds is an experienced, returns-driven private equity fund-of-funds.