5 Rules for Driving Change
The biggest misconception about being an executive is that once you get the title, you can make stuff happen by fiat. It doesn’t work that way. Being an executive isn’t about being given the authority to make things happen in an organization. It’s about developing the power to get people moving in the direction the organization needs them to move.
Even many executives don’t get this. Too many act like telling people something needs to be done is going to get others behind it. Most people have seen a solid product insight or promising business strategy initiative fizzle instead of taking hold. And you’ve definitely seen some new business process announced by an exec with much hoopla and fanfare, only to watch as everyone involved falls into their old work habits a few weeks later.
Changing behavior is hard. That’s true of your own behavior, let alone someone else’s. And getting a big, distributed group of people to change their behavior in unison… fuhgeddaboutit.
So how do you do it? Once you have a positioning strategy worth advancing — or for that matter a product idea, a strategic insight, or a business process — how do you drive adoption across an organization that would benefit from it?
Here’s a five-part process that works for me, what I’ve at least tried to apply here at Actifio from Day One.
1. Define the change through an inclusive process.
The source of an idea matters when it comes to having it embraced by a big group of people. Ideas that emerge from a collective process — always including representation of teams impacted by its adoption — are much more likely to take root than those that don’t. If you want them with you on the landing, get them onboard for the takeoff.
So what if an idea for the next big thing just hits you in the shower someday, and you need to make it happen to save mankind? Even in those cases, there’s value in going through the rituals of a more participatory process. I’m not saying you should lie, or hold some kind of fake brainstorming session. I’m just saying it’s often smart to engage key stakeholders in a process… plant a seed with them, and nurture it a little before the big reveal.
For example, let’s say you’re ready to pitch your epiphany to Bob on Monday morning. If you open with, “I’ve been thinking about our XYZ problem, Bob, and I’d like to get your thoughts on something,” you’re signaling to Bob that you value his opinion, and that you’re still listening to what others have to say in shaping an idea that could be significant. But… if you start by saying, “Hey, Bob… I solved our XYZ problem this weekend, and you’re going to LOVE IT!,” Bob is most likely going to nod thinking “Oh, great. Wonderboy pulled something out of his ass over the weekend and now there’s a bunch of work I need to do to make it happen.”
Which mindset is more likely to get the result you want?
Stone tablets brought down from the mountaintop worked for Moses. But, more often than not, they won’t work for you.
2. Articulate the change clearly.
Once your idea has a little momentum, get focused on clarity of communication. I know I say this a lot, but it’s so important: Tell the story. Keep it simple. Be brief. And for god sakes make it pretty.
Is Woody Allen more likely to hold your attention, or Brad Pitt? Ruth Buzzi, or Sofia Vergara? The same principle applies to crappy typefaces, text-addled slides, thoughtless prose. Take the time to polish your idea, once enough people have put their fingerprints on it to make it better and give it a chance.
3. Roll out the presentation.
With that it’s time for the dog-and-pony show. If a broad platform like a company-wide event is available to you, great. Go for it. More likely you’ll need to cycle through your ideas a few times in smaller groups, and that can be even more effective.
Remember you’ll only get better at selling your idea, so don’t lead off with your most critical audience. I like to start with a voluntary WebEx or Slidecast, just to uncover a few more advocates across the organization. Infecting these people with the gospel will help it spread more easily, and make others curious without encouraging opposition.
You’ll know you’ve done a good job with this if, the first time you’re in front of a really big and important group with your story, 20% of the room is already on your side. That’s varsity execution, baby. That’s a guy/gal who’s going to get shit done.
4. Build support through a series of one-on-one conversations.
But that’s not the end. Leadership isn’t a big shiny presentation thing. It’s a series of one-on-one conversations.
You need to get out there and sell the change, even if you’re the Founder/CEO/Grand Poohbah/Great Gazoo. Use your budding network of true believers to spot the inevitable detractors and cynics. Invite them for coffee, and try to understand where they’re coming from. There’s usually some nuance that’s bugging them, and addressing it can not only earn their support, but make your idea stronger.
My third day here I gave a new e-mail sig file to a few insiders in sales and marketing, just to begin to socialize a new positioning idea. The sig closed with v1.0 of a phrase that become the first rev of our positioning: “Recover anything instantly for 90% less.” After learning some feathers had been ruffled among our critically important group of Solution Architects, I had an exchange with the head of that team to try and understand the issue. He told me his guys were engineers, and that the line — while technically true — smacked of marketing overpromise, and risked creating an expectation they couldn’t deliver on. Adding just two words — “up to,” before “90%” — signaled to them I was listening. It also gave us a signature line that’s both more accurate and more likely to succeed when it encounters the same cynicism in the outside world: Recover anything instantly for up to 90% less. Boom.
5. Reinforce the change by celebrating early successes.
By now your idea / positioning / whatever should have built some internal support, and you should see behavior start to change. But that’s also a process that takes time, and one of the best things you can do to keep the train rolling is to find a win you can celebrate. Look… your idea has to start creating real value at some point, or it’s not right. Look for that story and be the reporter of it. Share it with the organization, and use it as you continue to engage people, one-on-one, helping your idea take root in the culture of your organization.
Stay on it. When you’re sick to death of hearing yourself say the same thing, most people will have heard you say it once. Holland-Mark CEO Chris Colbert used to call himself the Chief Repetition Officer. “My job is to say the same thing over and over,” he says, “until everybody starts to believe it.”
People who are effective at changing things understand this. And they’re willing to do the work that too often goes un-done in the Big Idea fly-bys that rarely amount to more than a few interesting slides, and a whole lot of wishful thinking.
Like this? Please click the ❤︎ below, the “Follow” so you don’t miss out on more. Thanks!