Thursday, 8 November 2007

The answer to myth 10: Sceptical people and enemies of change need to be sidelined

We all have our share of ‘difficult people’. Conventional management of change has taught us that there is always going to be a group of ‘no-hope’ people and another group of ‘maybe-but-very-sceptical-people’. It smells like a bell curve! There is nothing wrong with the talk. We all know what we mean by it. My warning is against premature labelling and self-fulfilling prophecies.

A converted sceptic is worth 100 disciplined followers, because (a) an imitation of his ‘conversion’ may draw a small world of its own into the change and (b) the ‘conversion’ itself is social proof and legitimization. (“If Peter is involved, maybe this is for real at last”, I heard in a client meeting). Our ‘internal segmentation’ often reads like this:

  • Good guys: going for it, get them all on board.
  • Resistant guys: they will never change, be prepared to let them go.
  • Sceptical guys: mainly a pain, either they will ‘get it’ and change, or else’.

Viral Change has the following words of wisdom: suspend judgement, be willing to be surprised and, above all, don’t write off the assets that quickly. Mary, the one who is systematically sceptical, may well be so for a reason. And she may see vital change as a real opportunity for real change and see a role for herself in its model of distributed leadership. A sceptic may be one of your best Champions. Alice, a wonderfully loyal employee, always ready for change, may have been taken for granted. But Alice, recently promoted to section manager, may not fancy the idea of Change Champions going around apparently bypassing her hierarchy. She may become a wonderfully unhappy and unsupportive employee. Do not sideline anyone! Let’s first see who the final characters are in the tipping points plots!

If you want to read more about Viral Change, or want to revisit some of the other myths, you can read it all again in my book of the same title: Viral Change: the alternative to slow, painful and unsuccessful management of change in organisations

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