“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I may remember. Involve me and I learn.” Benjamin Franklin, (1706 – 1790), writer, philosopher, scientist, Founding Father of the United States of America, inventor who discovered electricity, publisher.
While recently serving as adjunct faculty at Northwestern University and teaching a course called Executing Strategic Change, students would ask me, “What is the most important step or action we need to take to guide our company / school / government to successfully manage change?”
I replied with confidence that even though each change is unique, the importance of completing the following remains constant: “Do a stakeholder analysis.” A key part of your upfront planning efforts to lead and navigate change well must include taking time to understand who’s being impacted, and how.
The MIT Sloan Management Review recently published an insightful article entitled, “Navigating the Politics and Emotions of Change” supporting my reply. The authors point out that the harder aspects of change lie in the unstructured nature of helping people navigate the emotions and feelings that change can evoke. If not adequately addressed, “skepticism, fear and panic can wreak havoc on any change process…and create resistance, disengagement, distraction and burnout.”
Here are the wise five steps the authors suggest taking, and why:
Step 1: Map the political landscape. No matter the context of the change, understand what drives your stakeholders. This will help you deal with resistance that may develop as changes are being planned and implemented. This crucial step is often either ignored – or minimal time is invested in it.
Step 2: Identify the key influencers within each stakeholder group. Figure out who best represents and/or influences the hearts and minds of that group. During times of change, it’s important to understand who people will trust and look to within their peer group.
Step 3: Assess influencers’ receptiveness to change. Develop a sense of what matters most and what matters least to each influencer regarding the change. See the article to learn more about the Passion Meter, a simple yet easy way to enable change leaders to probe and learn why people feel the way they do about a change.
Step 4: Mobilize influential sponsors and promoters. Because others are watching their every move, provide executive sponsors and influencers with clear actions to take to build momentum. Keep it simple, though, as these leaders typically have many other initiatives they are sponsoring.
One strategy I’ve used with executives is to offer them a short but straightforward list of actions proven to be impactful in leading change successfully. Then, I highlight the three key actions I think each executive must do, based on the change being addressed. This creates an opportunity for them to communicate which parts of the change plan they are willing to sponsor and promote based on what is meaningful to them.
Step 5: Engage influential positive and negative skeptics. Bill Gates once said: “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” Whatever the change is, be it a product change, or a service change or an organizational change, take time to actively listen to and understand the fears, uncertainties and doubts that some of your skeptics have. This step will help uncover the concerns that your less vocal skeptics may have as well.
As I mentioned in a recent blog post, change may cause some headaches, but you have the power to determine the size of those headaches. Keep that aspirin bottle small by involving key stakeholders early in the planning process. Address their concerns and build momentum upfront so that you can plan, implement and sustain change successfully…with them, not to them.
It still puts a smile on my face when former students reach out to me to share that they have truly ‘lived’ the value of analyzing stakeholders upfront. [Of course, I will also share in their pain (and offer them some of my extra aspirin) of failed changes and the role that not analyzing stakeholders played.] Stay tuned for more on analyzing stakeholders.