Change is the cornerstone of building a successful a business, but while many people look at the strategic reasons to pivot equally important for triumph is managing the politics and emotions involved. Left unattended, skepticism, fear, and panic can wreak havoc on any pivot. These emotions create resistance, distraction and burnout when you are trying to make a strategic or tactical change. A recent article in the MIT Sloan Management Review by Ellen Auster and Trish Ruebottom highlights a five-step process to address these issues.
Map the political landscape
In every pivot, politics emerge as people on your team jockey to represent their interests. Sometimes political factions are based on functions, product, location, tenure or level in your hierarchy. The first step in working with the emotional and political dimensions of change is for the change leaders to map the political landscape – the key people who will be affected.
Identify the key influencers within each group
Once the key stakeholder groups are mapped, change leaders should identify the key influencers in each group. Just as you would target key influencers in a social media marketing campaign, internal power players are critical because of their ability to either energize or derail change. Influencers can either create a positive buzz that inspires others in the organization to support the pivot or, via negative comments, heighten their resistance. To find key influencers, revisit the stakeholder map to identify those people whose opinions can sway others.
Assess influencers’ receptiveness to change
Everybody reacts differently to change. Some are eager, enthusiastic and optimistic while others are confused, mad or uncertain. In the Auster and Ruebottom article, the authors segment influencers’ receptiveness into six categories:
- indifferent fence-sitters
- cautious fence-sitters
- positive skeptics
- negative skeptics
Sponsors and promoters are the most receptive to change. On the other extreme are positive skeptics (people who believe a pivot or initiative is flawed) and negative skeptics (people resisting change for emotional or personal reasons). With the former, you should engage the positive skeptics as they provide a reality check and might help uncover snags or problems with your pivot. With negative skeptics, it is important to engage them and help them deal with the underlying fears and anxieties.
The majority are the fence-sitters. Indifferent fence-sitters might be over-committed in other areas or feel they cannot impact the change. Cautious fence-sitters would prefer to watch and wait and are concerned about the political consequences of moving too early. Addressing the concerns of skeptics early can prevent negative emotions from swaying the cautious or indifferent fence-sitters.
Mobilize influential sponsors and promoters
Sponsors and promoters are change champions vital to success, because they have the insight, passion and energy to in the creation of the content, culture and momentum required for change. They have the social networks to broadcast the change, the resources to get things done and the power needed to gain the necessary support to achieve success.
Engage influential positive—and negative—skeptics
Skeptics can either offer great value to a pivot or turn a minor hurdle into a major roadblock. Positive skeptics often offer great perspectives and insights and the vulnerabilities of proposed changes. Equally important is working directly with influential negative skeptics. They can either intentionally or unintentionally start a “resistance” movement if their concerns are not addressed.
Positive or negative, skeptics should be embraced and their concerns heard. Developing action steps early to address issues raised by positive skeptics is key to prevent resistance from escalating. Listening carefully to the concerns of negative skeptics is also critical. 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.
Addressing the emotions and politics of change is key to survival and success
As I have written before, the ability to pivot all elements of your business is one of the most important skills a leader has. To execute these pivots, you cannot afford to ignore the politics and emotions tied to change. The five-steps outlined above are an action-oriented and easy to implement approach for working with the political and emotional dynamics that can ruin any pivot. If handled correctly, though, they can make your change faster and better and thus position you and your company for success.