Several years ago, Harvard Business Review released a paper by John Kotter called “Why Transformational Efforts Fail”. By studying the process and outcomes of change initiatives in over 100 companies, he identified eight errors that leaders and executives of organizations often make when leading through change.

In particular, Kotter identified that one reason organizational change efforts fail is that executives “…simply don’t get enough buy-in from enough people for their initiatives and ideas.”

This is as true for leaders in 2018 as it was in 1995 – in our work with leaders around the world, we often coach clients who are attempting to drive change in their teams, departments, and organizations. One common sticking point we uncover is that leaders often forget to build strong relationships with key stakeholders before trying to drive change.

Who are the key internal stakeholders in your organization?

In situations when senior leaders are attempting to drive changes that will affect the entire organization, our belief is that everyone on your leadership team should be considered a key internal stakeholder.

At the department level, front line managers, team leads, key people from other areas that interface with your department are all potential key stakeholders. Everyone has those certain people on their team that have influence, they are also your key stakeholders as they can positively or negatively impact a change process.

How should you engage with stakeholders to make change easier?

The first step in driving change is communicating a compelling vision for why change is going to happen. The next most important step is engaging key internal stakeholders – these are the people that are going to spread the message and help the rest of the team understand and get on board.

A common mistake that is made in change efforts is telling your leadership team about the change and yet not equipping them with the tools they need to support it. Not only do your key people need to know “why” the change is happening, they also need to understand how to share this message with others and how to align their own behaviour to align with the change.

Just as you would provide internal training if you were introducing a new piece of software, so too can you provide internal training to your key stakeholders about how to support the change effort. Equipping leaders with words and tools helps guide people when they see something happening that is not aligned with the new direction.
Here are 4 simple concepts to engage key internal stakeholders:

  1. Share the vision
    • Create a common message that is easy to understand and to share with others
    • Create a picture of what success will look like in the future
    • Use storytelling to convey message
    • Work to connect them to the vision through their heart as well as their mind…. Help them feel it and how they contribute to the vision
  2. Involve stakeholders
    • Bring internal stakeholders together to hash it out — encourage discussion around all the ways it might fail, challenges they foresee in getting others on board, how things will look when they succeed
  3. Create a communication plan
    • Craft simple messages that everyone agrees to share with the rest of the organization
  4. Create accountability
    • Bring stakeholders back together often to discuss how things are going, reinforce vision, celebrate the wins, share challenges and solutions – this keeps people engaged and helps support their leadership efforts

Change does take time, and having your key internal stakeholders on board can greatly increase your chances for a successful organizational change effort.


Action Items

If you’re a leader working on a change initiative, here are some things to think about.

  • What’s the story you can craft about your vision?
  • What’s the picture that will engage people’s hearts and minds?
  • Who are the ‘key stakeholders’ on your list, the ones who will help support the change effort and share the vision?