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Nigel Walpole Managing Change - forget everything you’ve ever learned!

Just for a moment, I want you to forget everything you’ve ever learned about implementing change and consider…

  1. What are people really thinking when they attend the third ‘launch event’ of their career?
  2. Will the message ‘if we carry on doing what we have always done, we are going to keep on getting what we have always got, we have to change…’ really sway the ‘unmotivated’?
  3. Will technology alone achieve the change you need?
  4. Is it easier to overcome resistance or gather support?

We work with many managers in organisations undergoing change – mergers, re-structures, new services, new government, cost efficiencies, revised visions, new responsibilities, new technology, new legislation; in fact just change!

The old joke that change is inevitable, except from a vending machine seems truer than ever in the current austere climate.

Every intervention we conduct in this area, be it a course, a workshop or executive coaching, emphasises how important it is to ‘get people on board’. People make change happen, otherwise a vision remains just that, a vision.

Of course, engaging people is not always as easy as it seems and many managers put many hours of work into persuading their staff that the change is good, that the effect will be beneficial.

Our experience in supporting organisations through change shows that, whatever their level of seniority, people tend to follow one of 3 three paths.

Well over half will follow the path described by the leader, they won’t lead themselves, but nor will they lag behind. They may have some nagging doubts, but generally  these can be resolved and these people can be easily persuaded, they’ll go with the flow. These are the ‘followers’.

Of the remaining half, some people don’t want to go down the path, they may even dig their heels in, they will resist change and seize every opportunity to point out the risks to anyone who’ll listen. They will verbalise their resistance probably to everyone else who will listen. Some might even try to undermine and de-stabilise the proposed change. These are the ‘resistors’.

The others will embrace the change eagerly, will support it verbally and some will search for ways to get involved. These are the ‘helpers’.

A small number will really drive the change forward improving and refining it as they go along. These are the ‘champions’.

So where should the architects of change invest most of their efforts?

Many such architects, have been told “you have to deal with resistance” will devote much energy trying to convert the ‘resistors’. In doing so, they frustratingly send a message to the ‘followers’ and ‘helpers’ that the ‘resistors’ are important and that what the ‘resistors’ have to say really matters.

The result:

  • The ‘followers’ will see the ‘resistors’ getting more and more attention
  • Because of the attention, the ‘resistors’ arguments gain more air time
  • Sadly, the ‘helpers and ‘champions’ feel neglected, their energy inevitably wavers

What about the opposite approach.

Invest effort in the ‘champions’, give them full support, protect the ‘helpers’ and ‘champions’, show everyone that this is the behaviour that matters.

The result:

  • The ‘followers’ follow the ‘helpers’ and ‘champions’ and not the ‘resistors’
  • The ‘resistors’ feel more and more isolated and begin to join the ‘followers’ or ‘helpers’ (or leave, which may not be a bad thing)
  • The change programme gains momentum

Of course, architects of change must not neglect the genuine concerns of the ‘followers’, it may be that they are hesitant to voice their concerns for fear of being seen as a ‘resistor’.

Some concerns may be very valid and much better for them to be supported by a ‘listening’ champion rather than a ‘talking’ resistor.

Just a change of mindset perhaps!


Nigel Walpole, MD, Bray Leino Learning

In my series of blogs I’ll talk through my thoughts on some of the key issues facing managers in the workplace - lessons learnt, tips for success and general musings.

Copyright © 2013 Bray Leino Learning

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