Executives who want to implement a change need to identify the influencers in their organization who can help push the project forward — or who can cause it to stall.

How do you get employees to embrace change, rather than fear it?

That was the question that kept surfacing for Ellen R. Auster (Schulich School, York University) and Trish Ruebottom (Goodman School of Business, Brock University) as they worked with executives as consultants and oversaw more than 400 change projects conducted as part of the Kellogg/Schulich Executive MBA program.

What they heard, over and over, was frustration. Change projects that were cut short or stalled. Projects that suffered from push-back from suppliers. Staff that got disengaged or burned out.

“Left unattended, skepticism, fear and panic can wreak havoc on any change process,” Auster and Ruebottom write in “Navigating the Politics and Emotions of Change,” in the Summer 2013 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review. “Performance may also drop as exasperated high-performing employees leave for calmer seas.”

Their solution? A five-step, proactive process designed to help leaders identify and direct both the politics and the emotions that are churned up by heading in new directions.

  • Step 1: Map the political landscape. Change leaders need to “map the political landscape — the key external and internal, formal and informal stakeholders who will be affected” Auster and Ruebottom write. Politics will emerge as stakeholders weigh in to represent their interests, and change leaders need to know who is out there.
  • Step 2: Identify the key influencers within each stakeholder group. “Influencers are the key individuals who have the resources, skills or social networks needed to win over the hearts and minds of the larger group,” write the authors. “It is important to spend time up front identifying these key influencers, listening to their ideas and engaging their participation, because they play a critical role in providing resources, enlisting others and casting the change in a positive or negative light.”
  • Step 3: Assess influencers’ receptiveness to change. Auster and Ruebottom have seen influencers take one of six roles regarding potential changes to the organization: they can become sponsors, promoters, indifferent fence-sitters, cautious fence-sitters, positive skeptics or negative skeptics.

    In Auster and Ruebottom’s experience, bringing sponsors and promoters on board in the initial phases of change can be beneficial in moving change forward. Positive skeptics can be a catalyst for useful rethinking of different aspects of a plan. Negative skeptics and their concerns need to be addressed.

    As for the fence-sitters, they often look to their peers for direction. “In our experience, it tends to be the energy of influential promoters and sponsors that wins over this fence-sitting majority,” write Auster and Ruebottom.

  • Step 4: Mobilize influential sponsors and promoters. Cultivating these people’s interest is crucial to building overall support and energy for sustaining change, write Auster and Ruebottom.

    Possible action steps include asking them to shape the plan; enlisting them to help lead an early part of the plan; giving them a role with visibility to the C-suite; and allowing job flexibility throughout the change to encourage shared learning.

  • Step 5: Engage influential positive and negative skeptics. Skeptics can be valuable or they can be roadblocks. Working with them early is key.

    “Positive skeptics may offer important perspectives and insights about the vulnerabilities of proposed changes,” write Auster and Ruebottom, while working directly with influential negative skeptics is equally important. “Addressing their concerns honestly sends a clear message that their perspective is important, that the change will not be force-fed to them and that transparency and openness are valued.”

    Action steps include creating a context that encourages “failing smart” and disassociating a change from previous changes by emphasizing differences in its content, in its process and in who’s leading it.

For more on managing the politics of change, read the full article.

1 Comment On: Five Steps To Leading Change Successfully

  • Praveen Kambhampati | August 16, 2013

    I have posted a few steps in Linked in where this article is shared. Reposting it here below, for context sake.
    “Employees of an organization are usually aware of the difficulties and conflicts that are impacting the functions adversely. Often they are clueless on just the “how” part of making the change rather than the “what” has to change. The other constraint would be on who will bell the cat, the cat sometimes being the top management which is ready to sponsor the change management initiative but needs more time to change itself.
    The third one is a methodical road map and sufficient time to adapt changed approach, change has nothing to do with the current processes which may be loss making for the organization. The change impact has to be accounted for, from a point on timeline which is nearer to the impact of change, and futuristic.
    Representation from all across the organizational functions is another important point which has a great impact on the change. The change being talked about allover the place has the people mentally prepared to more or less see it as a necessity than a choice to adapt change.
    The change management initiative has to be projectized to see results with clear involvement of people. initiatives under the banner of OpEx or Six Sigma are successful because he budgets, eople involvement, the change environment and management control are positively hyped, well planned and driven with well scoped but limited agenda.
    A compelling approach rather than intrusive always gives more results in driving the change for being something new and a small beginning being followed up vigorously.”

    we also need to make it a very visible and public affair within the organizational limits especially in relevant functions. An announcement of the initiative and the organizational intention and policy to adapt change should be very loud and clear.

    Metrics is the most common and most effective thing that talks to the involved people more effectively. It has a magical influence on peoples mindset and talks to them on what next more easily than a long motivational speech on change management. Surely “A Metric is better than thousand words” any day.

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