How many times is a new leader asked to change the status quo of the unit they inherit? If not, how many new leaders think they have to change the status quo just to symbolize taking charge?

In the course of management succession, a new leader is constantly elevated and expected to show immediate competency with equal-to-better ideas than the last person. Not only is the new leader asked to come up with a different strategy or changed environment, they are expected to carry it off with majority support as the first test of their abilities. The test sets the tone for their tenure.

Every unit can be improved in some way. The strength of one leader is usually matched by some weakness in the last individual in that position, that got less attention. So, coming up with a set of changes to ‘take charge’ is not as difficult as it would seem. When you have no good ideas to improve your market position, try re-branding with a logo or ‘refreshed’ color combinations…just kidding, as you must have something better than optics!

Seriously, change is stressful for all. It shakes the power structure into the unknown. Obviously identifying change issues that improve your business competitiveness or performance culture would be best, but you will really be remembered by whether you could sell your idea and overcome resistance to take charge. Mediocre ideas that are ‘sold’ well are superior to the greatest idea changes you never get concurrence for. New leaders, especially if coming from outside the organization, usually do not have an established constituency. Most all inherited subordinates are polite and act politically supportive in their surface behavior to a new leader. But there are a wide range of unspoken positions these subordinates are forming, but not expressing. As the new leader lays out their plan for change, these positions harden.

There are few frameworks which illustrate the attitude situation and road map to prioritize attention. The attached diagram might be helpful to a change agent trying to convince those individuals under their charge.

This diagram categorizes the subordinate positions that will develop. Obviously, there is a graduation from embrace to resist. Leaders will quickly recognize the categories but be somewhat less clear on where everyone fits. It will change, but at any point in time the real trick is where to concentrate one’s effort to get an acceptable threshold acceptance from subordinates required to be successful in implementing the change effectively.

Sometimes it is hard to tell where people really sit because the negative will rarely be said to the new leader. Therefore, discount what they say to your face. Ask lots of ‘what do your peers think” type questions, triangulate answers, think about whose power position is threatened and watch people’s body language.

I believe that most of a new leader’s efforts should be focused on the two categories that are either “Neutral” or “Pessimists.” It is here that conversion through persuasion is most possible. Just tipping the people that fall into these categories upward will create majority momentum and crowd following. To be effective, the new leader needs to mobilize the support of the “Apostles” and “Advocates” in a targeted way. Talking points on ‘why it is in the interest of individuals’ should be finely honed and consistent.

On the other hand, there needs to be little patience and tolerance to what I call the “Coffee Room Saboteurs” and “Assassins.” They should be detected and given a quick ultimatum of moving to Neutral or out the door. So much of the good will efforts of the new leader are negated by individuals in these categories and they must be dealt with quickly. A frequent mistake is to ignore the individuals in these categories or hope they will come around on their own. I have found in these cases, it is not worth your energy and effort to try to sway all the way to positive acceptance, except for an initial confrontation. The adage: “a few rotten apples in the barrel will ruin the whole barrel” is absolutely true.

Having a real plan to attack resistance and increase understanding is essential to all leaders trying to accomplish effective change in a timely manner.

© 2018 Robert Uhler and THE UHLER GROUP. All rights reserved.