Crucial Skills®

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Crucial Influence

How to Lead Change

Dear Crucial Skills,

I was recently asked to lead an effort to implement job rotation in our organization. The problem is that the team I’ve been asked to lead thinks it’s a dumb idea. They are focused on their own jobs and have no interest in cross-training and rotation. How am I supposed to lead change when those leading with me don’t see the value?


Dear Changeless,

Be careful!

As I read your question I worried that you might make the same mistake many leaders make when dealing with resistance. The mistake is to commit the fundamental attribution error. That’s the gaffe of assuming people’s resistance is simply a function of their bad attitudes, lack of commitment, or plain and simple orneriness. When you characterize them as simply “focused on their own jobs,” I worry that you’re chalking them up as “narrow minded.” While this assumption may be true, it may also be wrong.

If you draw this conclusion, then you might be tempted to either write your team members off, or to use compulsion to bring about change (i.e., let them know “the boss expects us to do this”). While there are times when it’s wise to invoke authority, it’s by no means the best way to influence change and invite commitment.

The key to leading change is to first understand the sources of influence working against your desired results.

I’ll give a few examples from the six sources of influence we describe in Influencer:

1. It could be that your teammates aren’t interested because they worry they won’t find the new work interesting (a personal motivation problem).
2. It could be that they worry they won’t be as good at the new roles as they are in their current roles (a personal ability problem).
3. They may also be getting pressure from colleagues who think it’s a dumb idea (a social motivation problem).
4. Maybe they are stressed about the new team assignment because it’s being piled on to their existing workload—no one is giving them backup (a social ability problem).

I could go on, but the point is it would be wise for you to take a couple of team members to lunch one-on-one and ask about their feelings and concerns. You may not identify all of the sources of influence that are actually impeding progress, but if you listen with all six sources in mind you’ll likely walk away with a much better idea of the real reason behind their resistance.

With that said, let me suggest a couple of specific ideas:

1.  If they just aren’t personally motivated, take a field trip. Usually, when people aren’t responding, leaders pile on more verbal persuasion to talk people into seeing the wisdom of change. They use logic, reason, and even a bit of pressure—which works less the more you use it.

What leaders fail to consider is that the less-than-motivated would probably respond to the same kind of influence that convinced them change was necessary in the first place—direct experience. Too often, leaders forget how they became convinced of the need for change—which was rarely because someone talked them into it.

Here’s how leaders get motivated: they talk to a colleague, or read an article and get a brilliant idea they think would be fabulous for their company. Say, for example, having everyone wear propeller hats. Chances are they saw this new idea in action and got to touch, taste, and smell the hidden benefits of propeller hats. When visiting their buddy’s company, they saw with their own eyes that everyone wearing propeller hats increased productivity 1,000%. This direct experience persuades the leaders completely. As a result, they return to their company and simply throw words at people expecting them to think and feel the same way they do. “Hey, let’s put in an order for propeller hats for everyone!” The leaders’ words fall on deaf ears. Others think it’s a stupid idea, or one that “won’t work here.” They even grumble that this new idea is simply the “hat of the month.”

So, it would be wise for you to slow down a little and let your team meet with people from organizations that are further down the road on job rotations. Let them ask tough questions. Let them talk with people from these organizations who were skeptical in advance. Let them live there for a day or two. Whatever it takes—the investment of time in helping them arrive at their own conclusions up front will pay huge dividends in their engagement later.

2.  Ability gaps are often disguised as a lack of motivation. Often, when you’re asking people to venture into unknown territory they act reluctant. But more often than not, they don’t want to go because they worry that despite their best efforts, they can’t succeed. Or, they worry it will be uncomfortable to attempt change. Adding compulsion won’t deal with their concerns. However, adding to their ability to succeed will.

In your situation, you could add to your teammates’ ability by arranging a single-day experiment. Design an experience that helps them gain a new job-rotation skill so they can see that they are able to handle rotations. Also, when you get into the guts of your influence strategy, be sure to invest a huge amount in coaching, training, and deliberate practice to address ability concerns.

3.  Don’t keep Influencer to yourself. Finally, share the six-source model with your team. As you teach them about this way of looking at change, you’ll free them up to diagnose barriers more effectively with you. You’ll also make it safe for them to speak up about various barriers they might have thought were undiscussable. Reading the book together—or, dare I say it—going through the training together, is a powerful way to ensure the success of your effort.

Teach the Influencer model to the team and include them in good diagnosis and design.

Best wishes in your influence efforts!

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5 thoughts on “How to Lead Change”

  1. Tweets that mention Crucial Skills » How to Lead Change --

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Paula M. Hollinger, Crucial Skills. Crucial Skills said: Crucial Skills: How to Lead Change #newsletter […]

  2. Haider Imam

    Valuable insights, Joseph, thank you for the detail in your reply.

    To what extent is your organisation is backing you up in its measures, data and communications?
    It’s easy to dismiss something you see as a fad or trivial, less easy to dismiss it if you know the company demands it. If you don’t know the problem from NOT changing and what that implies for you, why would you embrace change in the first place?

    So, perhaps also might be worth influencing up the line, too?

  3. Eddy Hall

    A basic principle of good decision-making in organizations is to seek input from those who will be most affected by the decision. Since those most affected do not believe this is a good decision, it seems likely that they feel they were not given a voice in the decision.

    Could it be that the reason they object to the plan is because it really is a bad idea? Obviously, a good place to start is to ask each person who objects to the plan why he or she doesn’t think it is a good idea. But the question must be asked sincerely–not just to uncover objections so they can be overcome, but open to the possibility that there may be valid reasons that the plan, at least as presently conceived, is not a good plan. Can these people be invited to help with coming up with a better solution?

  4. Sharon Campbell

    My concern as an employee ordered to “cross-train” would be that the company is planning more layoffs and wants me to now not only do the three jobs I’m doing now, but more later. If that is the case, or is not the case, you need to see if this is an issue for your employees.

  5. Elizabeth Ann Maisel, RN, BSN, CPAN

    Hi there,
    From a nursing stand point, we have to cross-train and float all the time. Teachers and state workers complain about having manditory days off; but nurses have been low censused for decades. Those of us who are more flexable, work more often. I float between three units, do the ordering for one unit, and am the preceptor for most new staff. I also do all of the education for my main unit. I work in the PACU (recovery room), Day Surgery, or GI lab and our start time is also flexable each day, depending on the surgery schedule. I don’t find out the hours that I work until 5 pm the evening before. My start time can be anywhere from 5 am to 11:30 am. I’m not complaining, just explaining the realities of working in this day and age. If you want a good paying, full time job; you have to be willing to jump through some hoops. These days employers are not going to kiss your keister when you deign to show up, there are 400 other people who would kill for your one position. If you want to stay employed long term, you have to be willing to work at it. I have worked at my hospital since 1992, and save 14% of my income in my retirement account. I have 5 more years until my kids are out of college, then my husband and I will be retiring to live on a catamaran- at age 47.
    The crux of this is, sometimes people need motivation. You have to find out what their motivation is, for some of them an explanation that being more flexible guarantees their hours and makes them more valuable as an employee (i.e: less likely to get LC or laid off) may be all you need to help them see the value of cross-training. It takes time, education, and patience to change a cultures mind-set. It’s like getting a child to eat a new food, you have to show them the food 10 times, let them taste it 5, and then see if they will actually incorporate it into their diet- no guarantees! 🙂
    Elizabeth Ann Maisel, RN, BSN, CPAN

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