Why do change leaders focus on the plan rather than the people?

Among all the uncertainty about the current economic climate as the UK moves towards a separation from the EU, one thing is certain: change is coming.

Just because we don’t yet know the details, doesn’t mean we can’t start planning for changes to come. And one thing that many change leaders overlook during change programmes is their people.

It’s not uncommon to find elaborate, well-thought-through change plans missing just one ‘small’ but vital component: the people.

This is because there are two parts to any change programme. There’s the practical, planning side, the one involving systems and processes and fine detail. Then there’s the people side, the communication of the message and purpose, and the key element of involving employees in the journey.

Both parts are vital to the success of any change programme. Having a brilliant plan but lacking the engagement and support of your people will mean it won’t be as effective as it could be.

So why is it that many change leaders forget about their people?

Partly, for many managers, the answer is because the planning side is ‘easier’. It may require a lot of time and effort, but it’s familiar territory. Many leaders are skilled and experienced in strategy and planning, they have technical or project management skills and know how to create a strong plan.

But when it comes to taking people through the transition, the process is more unpredictable. The first step to helping people through change is to assess where they are on the journey. Ask two questions: 1, What is their attitude to this specific change? and 2, How much energy are they putting into this?

This will help you place each individual into one of four categories: Spectators, Champions, ‘Corporate Corpses’ and Saboteurs.

The likelihood is that at least half of your people will be Spectators, supportive of the change but with low energy. In other words, pretty neutral to what is going on. The great thing about Spectators, however, is that they can become engaged with the process if they are given information and choices.

The Champions are the people who are supportive of the change and are putting a lot of energy in to it. As a leader, you can pass some of the burden on to the Champions, and they can help you by acting as positive role models for the Spectators.

The ‘Corporate Corpses’ are the zombie brigade. These are the people who are not outwardly disruptive or cause any trouble, but who have very low energy and a very bad attitude.

Finally, the Saboteurs are usually the very noisy vocal minority who have a bad attitude and lots of energy, which they put into trying to hold back change and undermine your leadership.

It’s very easy to spend lots of effort dealing with the Saboteurs, when the focus should really be on trying to engage the Spectators.


Article by Rob Smith

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