Many times in business we realize the problems an organization is facing have nothing to do with the technology, skills, or resources that are provided. Instead, it comes down to the people and failed change management initiatives. Within any business transformation, saying something is one thing while doing it is completely different. Effective change, the kind that transforms an organization and an industry, happens when people want to have that change and accept it wholeheartedly.
But getting there is not easy. It takes what is considered one of the hardest forms of leadership. Not “Positional Leadership” or “Authoritative Leadership,” but Peer Leadership – the act of leading others without legitimate or formal authority1.
So, how do you get people to do something they don’t necessarily want to do, when you have no say or authority over them? Well, the answer depends. It’s important to consider both the motives and goals of the leader and the individuals they are trying to influence.
As leaders and managers, we can succumb to a type of Utilitarian2 ethics-thinking where leaders are justified in their decisions because, ultimately, it’s the right thing to do. As agents of change and transformation, we can take that one step further and say “It doesn’t matter why my peers accept this change and do what I ask, as long as they do it!” We then incentivize the change by offering gift cards, extra time off, public recognition, and the like. While this achieves our goals, it assumes that what we think is the right thing is actually the right thing. But if it’s not, then we lose credibility the next time we try to further implement change.
The reason people choose to accept change is important. Understanding and accurately explaining the reasons for change are the key differences between simply managing change, and creating a truly transformative process. You must show your peers what’s in it for them and why they should care.
Effective change management is not always about identifying unproductive behavior and systematically making plans to correct it. In certain instances, people and organizations want to accept change but are unable due to limitations and competing commitments that hinder their capability to accept change. These limitations cannot be resolved without effort and leadership, and helping people to overcome these competing commitments to become more successful is a huge component of effective peer leadership.3
True transformative change within an organization takes a lot of work, and necessitates an understanding of what the people want and what they are motivated by. It doesn’t have to be one-size-fits-all, either. For example, the marketing team’s goals and experiences are probably (and should be) much different than IT and HR. Earning trust and showing tangible benefits of your program, will build internal champions and advocates of your initiative.
When implementing change and obtaining buy-in with my clients, I try to understand not only where they are currently – personally, professionally, and culturally – but also where it is they want to go. By keeping the end state in mind, the seeds of transformation are more likely to take hold and flourish in even the most arduous environments.
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1 ”An Analysis of Peer Leadership Competencies and Skills,” Dissertation by John P. Baker, Western Kentucky University. May 1, 2011. http://digitalcommons.wku.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1004&context=diss
2 Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy – Act and Rule Utilitarianism – http://www.iep.utm.edu/util-a-r/
3 ”The Real Reason People Won’t Change,” by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey. Harvard Business Review, November 2001. https://hbr.org/2001/11/the-real-reason-people-wont-change