Dear Crucial Skills,
Our company is launching a new program and my staff members are very negative about the change. How can I get them to adopt the change and cooperate?
Dear Early Adopter,
Here’s the hard truth: no matter how brilliant your new program might be, people can render it useless.
What you have isn’t a leadership challenge, but a human challenge. To some degree, we all spend time trying to influence others to think and act differently than they do—coworkers, family members, children, neighbors, friends, and so on. Unfortunately, we often resort to compulsion, coercion, and charisma only to meet resistance. But if sixty years of social scientific study has any merit, true and lasting influence involves strategy. So, here are a few strategies that should help in your situation.
Simplify the Request
Too often leaders ask their people to do fifteen things to make a new program a success. Don’t do that. You’ll be lucky if you can get people to adopt one or two behaviors. So, start there. Pick the fewest number of high-leverage actions you want people to adopt as part of this program.
And be specific. Don’t ask them to “show initiative” or “be customer-focused.” Instead, ask them to do specific and replicable actions that you can see and measure. Shrink the request and clarify the required actions, and they will be more likely to act.
Avoid Simplistic Assumptions
It’s not bad to make some assumptions about why your people aren’t happy with the change or seem resistant, but don’t let your assumptions become simplistic. People do what they do (or don’t do what they should do) for a variety of reasons. The moment you start saying things like “the only reason they…” or “the one thing we need to do is…” you’re setting yourself up to fail. There isn’t a “silver bullet” when it comes to changing minds and behavior. Instead, consider a variety of things: values, interests, skills, culture, norms, incentives, tools, knowledge, systems, and so on.
Involve the “Cool Kids”
You don’t need to get through to everyone you want to influence in order to help them change; you simply need to reach the people everyone listens to, otherwise known as your opinion leaders. These are the people in the organization that everyone goes to for the “truth” on a situation. These opinion leaders have social capital, so it’s critical you identify and engage them.
Some leaders I work with tell me they know who their opinion leaders are and that they’re hesitant to engage them because they’re negative and outspoken. That’s common. Here’s the problem: If you ignore them or try to work around them, they will likely use their social capital to kill your new program before it’s even crawling. You’re better off involving them early on. Meet with them to hear them out, listen to their frustrations, and discuss the “why” behind the new program. Consider how it will benefit them and make those positive outcomes visible.
Don’t Dismiss Skepticism
It’s easy to hear the skeptical comments and then write them off. If you do this, you risk missing out on feedback that could make the rollout more effective. Instead, meet with your leadership team and review the top five critiques going around the organization. Review each critique one by one and ask these two questions:
- What are the elements of truth in this concern?
- If we were to take one action in response to this feedback, what would it be?
What you are engaged in is probably the most difficult and important part of being a leader. In the words of Kerry Patterson, “At the end of the day, what qualifies people to be called ‘leaders’ is their capacity to influence others to change their behavior in order to achieve important results.”
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Best of luck,