Think about how some change initiatives are rolled out.
Some leaders responsible for change enlist a variety of functions at the corporate level to communicate and support change efforts. Marketing comes to the table with a great marketing campaign, complete with glossy material and fantastic visuals, because that’s what they do best.
In some cases, compensation personnel put together what they perceive to be a great incentive plan to elicit the appropriate behavior for change because that’s their forte.
People at high levels determine bench marks to measure success.
People at high levels across departments congratulate themselves and rightly so. They built a phenomenal ark to carry followers to the change needed. They delight at the thought of how surprised, inspired and appreciated their change campaign will make team players when they roll it out. Privately, they get excited as they muse at how impressed team players will be with them when this masterpiece is presented.
In some cases, top level leaders agree that an initiative this awesome deserves to be unveiled with fanfare and enthusiasm. Sometimes they keep things under wraps and use the element of surprise to generate excitement. They pick the perfect date to lift the veil and share the initiative with the company.
When leaders finally roll it out, they don’t get the response they expected. Followers are confused and leaders are upset. Why?
Top-level leaders have input buy-in and as a result have developed an emotional attachment to the change initiative program.
Leaders are upset because, in many cases, they have put in months of preparation, time and budget pulling all of this together. In their minds, they’ve done all this for what now appear to be ungrateful followers. They consult with peers who helped develop the program and all agree it would motivate them! The feeling among this group is that they put so much into this program it should sell itself!
Too often, the lower-level leaders responsible for implementing change are hearing about it at the same time or just before their direct reports. They don’t understand and don’t fully buy in. When they’re not sold, it’s hard for them to sell followers.
Followers on all levels often are confused because they don’t have any emotional involvement. They can’t relate to the program. They didn’t have input. They are just hearing about it for the first time. Yes, it’s a whiz-bang program, but it looks complicated. They aren’t certain it will work the way it’s presented. They haven’t had months to absorb it.
While this may seem like an exaggeration, I have worked with companies to clean up after some or all of this approach. While we all like to say we know better, that we understand the imperative of participation and buy-in, all too often powerful leaders will impose this kind of implementation. They key on how powerful the element of surprise may be in creating enthusiasm when the real focus should be on effective change over the course of the initiative. In many cases, they sacrifice both.
Leadership is sales. Excitement should be developed initially in the way the change initiative is rolled out and sold, not told, to followers. Glossy material won’t sell the program as well as direct conversation. No amount of incentive will suffice when people don’t believe in the change. Excitement should be enhanced in the way the program is sold to followers every day.
Leaders on all levels should be involved in designing the change initiative. It’s not realistic to have everyone involved but a representative group of multi-level leaders and followers should be involved. Those responsible for implementing the change day in and day out should have time to absorb the initiative and should be sold themselves before being expected to sell to their followers.