Leading Change – Part 2: Build Your Guiding Coalition

A dream team. A volunteer army. A group of people who truly believe in what you hope to accomplish. These are the individuals you need to rally together to support you in your quest for change. They include other members of senior leaders who are good at what they do, credible in the eyes of others, and influential enough to get people to accept the change. You can’t go it alone; you need to create the right team.

This is the second in a series of four articles on leading people through change. In my last article, I discussed the hard truth about change and why 50-70 percent of planned change efforts fail.

John Kotter, international leadership and change guru, outlines his 8 step process for leading change of which some of the material in this article series is adapted. I have chosen to boil the 8 step process down to three key success factors: building the right team and creating a vision, engaging that team, and sustaining the change.

Building the right team, or your “guiding coalition,” is critical to any successful change initiative. Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great” and “How the Mighty Fall” talks about a concept of “getting the right people on the bus,” or in essence, determining who is on board with the vision and ready to start driving it. When it comes to creating the vision, yes you need a plan and an end goal to help you determine who the right people are to help you push this change forward. However, rather than presenting a completed plan and asking others to jump on board, enlist your team to help refine the vision. Gather their input and you will see a return on your investment through their level of engagement.

David Maister puts it another way in “Strategy and the Fat Smoker” when he explains that individuals need to decide if they want to try hard enough to sacrifice some of the present to achieve a better tomorrow. Not everyone will want to try hard enough, but most will, especially with some convincing. Picture a spectrum of buy-in where 20% to the far left are leaders who are fully on board with the change. The 20% on the far right are detractors (who you shouldn’t spend much time on). The 60% in the middle is what I like to call “wind checkers” – they could go either way depending on which side is tugging harder. You need to ensure that your side tugs harder by really nurturing both the leaders and wind checkers and providing them with the support they need to manage the change.

How do you best support these individuals and understand where their resistance stems from? The first step is understanding that when reactions are not managed or when people are not helped through the transition, they will resist for different reasons. Some are not knowing, meaning that for whatever reason, they are not aware a change is happening. Others are not able; they don’t have or don’t believe they have the skills needed to succeed in the new change environment. Finally, there are those few that are not willing. They know about the change, they have the skills (or maybe they don’t), but for whatever reason, they don’t agree to participate as a contributing member.

So how do you address each situation? For the not knowing and notable “resistors,” give them the knowledge of the change and the training to succeed through it. For the not willing, manage them well. Give them feedback, ask them powerful questions (How would you do things differently?), identify their strengths and switch up their roles so they are in less influential positions. The only way for an organization to be successful is for the majority of the people to accept the change and for those persistent resistors to be well managed.

This is a great opportunity for you to employ your effective coaching skills to help individuals on your team manage through change. Going back to Strategy and the Fat Smoker, Maister discusses how one of a leader’s roles is to act as a coach. This means so much more than keeping people informed and checking-in once and a while. It means asking questions and really listening to responses about what your people need. Don’t be afraid to draw people’s attention to flaws, to imperfections, to challenging the status quo. Creating dissatisfaction and then asking your team what can be done to make things better is a powerful tool for developing an engaged team. Now that you’ve learned the importance of creating the right team, I will let you know more about how best to engage them in the upcoming article.

References: 8 Steps to Accelerating Change in 2015 – Kotter International eBook, 2015 Do You Have the Right People on the Bus? Jim Collins, Smart Blogs on Leadership, 2010 Navigating Change: A Leader’s Role, David Dinwoodie et al. Centre for Creative Leadership, 2015 Strategy and the Fat Smoker: Doing What’s Obvious But Not Easy, David Maister, Spangle Press, 2008

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