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Constituencies of change - be prepared to rip the plaster off.

Two recent conversations about how to drive change drew me to observe that any change agent often has to deal with and manage several constituencies:
  • The early zealots: eager proponents and advocates, but they may want you to fire everyone else who doesn’t ‘get it’ straight away.
  • The nervous approvers: They need selling on the rationale, and are nervous about the change, but consultation, communication, confidence, consistency, and constancy of purpose will bring them aboard. They get very anxious when others don’t ‘get it’, and expect massive efforts to keep everyone happy.
  • The passive acceptors: They may question the rationale first, but, as the change becomes embedded, just accept it and forget about it.
  • The late converts: They fight the change tooth and nail, but as they see things start to work, they become its most ardent enthusiasts, and stop worrying about those who have yet to see the light.
  • The smart leavers: Strangely, these often understand the rationale for change, but for various reasons, it’s not for them, and they move themselves on to new jobs (where they often adopt new ways anyhow). You remain on good terms with them.
  • The bitter hangers-on: These are the ones who hate the change, and constantly bemoan it. They’ll never be converted, yet they stay on, becoming increasingly bitter and twisted, undermining everything and everyone, and constantly demanding your attention to their grievance.
It’s important to figure out which constituency someone is in, and manage them accordingly. If you’ve got a bitter hanger-on who can’t be turned into a late convert, try to turn them into a smart leaver. Otherwise, put them out of their misery - get them out as fairly, humanely and quickly as possible. The success and well-being of the team, the change and the business are more important than wasting time and energy on a cause you can’t win. It’s like removing a sticking plaster - a quick rip is less painful in the end.

First posted 28 March 2008