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, and what the impact and influence or correcting them will bring.
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 2022 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. In order to have any sort of impact and influence on your team, you must establish a relationship with them.
Identify Key Internal Stakeholders
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. Everyone has the ability to influence one another, and to succeed in ways that are individual to them.
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 and impact, they are also your key stakeholders as they can positively or negatively affect a change process.
How To Engage With Company Stakeholders
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. The workplace is a multilateral unit that must work together effectively to produce results.
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 behavior to shift with the change.
Just as you would provide internal training if you were introducing a new piece of software, you can 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, and gives them confidence to use their influence and impact positively.
Here are 4 simple influence and impact suggestions 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. But, it’s not just about everyone else. It’s also important to consider yourself, and if there is any change that you should make as a leader.
Leading our Lives with Influence and Impact
It’s knowing who you are, living by your own values, being intentional in your choices and taking responsibility for your actions and consequences. Not only is personal leadership about being a role model for other people, it’s about being proud of yourself and your actions at the end of the day.
It’s not always easy. As our world and workplaces continually change, who we are and what we stand for can be challenged and even threatened. This means that we may have to make tough choices when standing up for what we believe in is uncomfortable, unpopular, unwanted or dismissed.
Personal Leadership: Courage and Commitment.
You need the courage to stand in the fire. You need to be willing to brave the storm for what you think is important. You, as a leader, have the influence and impact on your team to drive success and create a coaching culture. This applies on a small scale and a large scale:
- Will you stand up for your unpopular project plan because you know it’s the best idea?
- Will you take responsibility for impacts of your actions you didn’t even intend?
- Will you hold firm to the life choices that make sense for you despite judgement and criticism?
“Why bother”, you might ask? Why take risks and make compromises that may jeopardize relationships, promotions, opportunities and decisions, just to hold to your own beliefs? Fair point. You do it because it offers you the greatest sense of fulfillment to know that you are making a true difference in the professional lives of yourself and your team.
How you do anything is how you do everything. Personal leadership isn’t something you’re born with – it’s a habit. You have to build your courage by living your values consistently, and then you will see the influence and impact you hold.
How you can take action now:
- Ask for something you want.
- Have that uncomfortable conversation that you’ve been delaying.
- Put together a proposal for that risky project.
- Admit to a mistake that you’ve been trying to hide.
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?
- Utilize our RQ Relationship Intelligence Tool