Napoleon said, “A leader is a dealer in hope.”
When it comes to change, that responsibility extends to creating the context of why and how the current reality should and could be different.
In case you missed last week’s blog, we’re exploring how one professional association managed and led the change process to re-brand itself in the marketplace. You can find the backstory and the initial learning opportunities here.
This week we will address how change is communicated to build that elusive and critical buy-in and support.
You are sitting in the audience on the last day of a wildly successful convention. You have just seen two fabulous presentations. The association’s outgoing president has just delivered his farewell statement. Included in that statement are comments that the organization’s membership is up for the first time in several years; attendance at the annual conference is the best it has been in several years; and the association ended the year with a positive financial result.
That is the situation in which 1,000+ attendees found themselves when the new association president was announced and introduced.
The first order of business was to introduce the consultant and the select committee to study and recommend changes to the association’s brand position. The audience is told that the committee has worked for two years to conduct research, make its recommendation, and prepare for the launch. The message is that the association’s 41-yearl old name is no longer relevant in the current marketplace and the solution is to change the name from something that describes what the association is to something that aspires to the brand greatness of TED, SXSW, and other iconic events.
Sitting in the very back of the room, it is easy to see that the audience is about evenly split in its reaction. About half stood and cheered while the other half sat in silence.
What Was Missing
The consultant’s presentation was polished and engaging. He provided the executive summary of what the research had revealed. He even connected the new name to the theme of a previous association president to illustrate how the change was not as radical as you might think.
What he didn’t say is vital: Why should I care?
And with all due respect to this talented professional who I know: Why should I care to hear it from you?
I can empathize. I, too, have found myself introducing a change as the outside consultant. In most cases, a significant percentage of the audience looked at me with an expression that said, “Who are you, and why should I care?”
Here are the two change leadership lessons for this week:
- No one can replace you as the leader.
Consultants can offer explanation and share implementation strategies. Motivational speakers can pump people up to embrace a change. Only the leader can speak as the authoritative voice of where you are going. People want and need to hear from you. If you don’t go all in as the leader, don’t expect others to go all in to follow you.
- Context and rationale matter.
People embrace change for one of two reasons: Crisis pushes them to change or opportunity pulls them to change.
The audience for this change launch was given neither. In fact, crisis had been taken off the table with the outgoing president’s comments about the outstanding successes of the previous year.
In Make Change Work, I shared the idea that creating a compelling opportunity is like your three-year old son or daughter spying a jar of cookies on top of your refrigerator. Presented with the prospect of a desirable reward, your child will readily embrace new ideas for bridging the gap between current reality and their desired future. You don’t have the same dilemma, however, if the prize is Brussels Sprouts rather than cookies.
The lesson to be learned: One of the association’s leaders told me that “people always resist change.” That is not a universal truth.
People resist having change imposed on them without a context, rationale, or compelling reason for why they should care. They resist when they hear about the change from someone who is not in a position to advance it as the leader. And, they resist change when they feel that those in charge do not recognize or appreciate why they might be reluctant to support the change.
People will, on the other hand, adapt to overcome a real crisis or embrace a compelling opportunity. Just look at the people who make lifestyle changes because of a health crisis or the child who embraces new ideas to capture the cookie on top of the refrigerator.
Your job as leader is to embrace the responsibility and provide the context that creates hope.
Stay tuned. Next week we will conclude this case study with the positive things that took place.