Jim Haudan of Root Learning, a phenomenal speaker and strategic change leader, likes to say that, “People will tolerate the conclusions of their leaders, but they will act on their own”. This is a profound statement and tells you everything you need to know about the topic of change management and how you can go about creating change inside your organization.
Think about how the typical approach to creating a new strategy for a company moving forward. The executives develop a strategy and an action plan, and then hold a company-wide Town Hall meeting to disperse the pearls of wisdom about how management wants everyone to act to implement that wonderful new strategy. This usually involves a well crafted 52 page PowerPoint presentation as well.
Now think about what usually happens afterward. Even if the strategy is sound and the audience actually agrees there are some good ideas there, no one is actually bought into the strategy.
So what happens? Usually these change efforts fail.
Why? Because the people weren’t actually involved in the creation of the strategy, so they have no ownership of it. As Jack Stack of SRC Holdings, the creator of open-book management the Great Game of Business says: “people support what they help create.”
So how do you do that?
There are actually two different approaches I have found to be effective at bringing your team on-board and making people agents of change.
1. Tap Your Influencers
Every company has a network, what we might call the “grapevine,” where information is passed informally around the organization. And within that network are nodes, or people who others look to for information. These are your “influencers,” the people like we see on social networks like Facebook and Twitter and Instagram that can sway the opinions of others. In the companies I worked at, I always knew who my influencers were. These were the folks who would stop by my office and have quick conversations, asking me questions. They would then use the answers I gave them as a kind of information power with their peers. They could tell others, “I just talked to Jim and he told me…” You can imagine people were curious what this influencer found out from the boss.
The point is you can use your influencers to help drive change inside your organization. I was recently talking to a CEO of a logistics company and he saw a huge need to cut trucking routes, raise prices, and to make other painful changes. But he knew that if he just issued those orders, the changes wouldn’t be effective. So he instead called in a group of truckers he knew were influential with the other drivers. He explained to this small group what was going on and why the business needed to make these changes. He exposed his logic. He then asked them if they could support the difficult changes he hoped to make. Once they agreed, he knew he was on his way to bringing those changes to the whole company because his influencers backed him. We all know that they went back to the yard and the break-room and shared their insights as to the future of the company with everyone.
While you might think this is somewhat manipulative on the part of the CEO, it’s actually a great example of putting the social network inside your business to work for a positive purpose. Great leaders are masters of this technique.
2. Share the Problem
Another other option you could consider in driving change inside your organization is to actually embrace total transparency and lay out the challenge to your people and allow them to come up with the solutions. This is scary if you haven’t done it and many question if their team can understand. Don’t worry - they’ll get it. You can do this in a facilitated fashion where you lay out the problems and then ask your team for their ideas in what to do about them. The CEO of the logistics company, for example, could have laid out the challenges with unprofitable routes, high costs and poor pricing and then listened to what solutions his drivers would have come up with. Opening up the conversation in this way would also allow the CEO to offer his own thoughts and opinions, which would be much better received by the team.
Admittedly, using this approach takes guts. But, as I have written about before, transparency is the new leadership superpower. I think you’ll find that people are smart. And if you give them the necessary information, they’ll come up with the right answers on their own. You might even be surprised when their ideas are even better than the ones you came up with!
So, if you are facing the need to make real change inside your organization, don’t work top down and expect your people to embrace radical change. Rather, start on the frontline with your influencers or, if you’re feeling bold, with your entire team and ask them to help you come up with the solution to the problem with you. My bet is that you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the result -; especially the level of engagement your people will have in making that change happen.