When you are looking at introducing and implementing a new change initiative you usually encounter three distinct groups.

There will be a group who will totally embrace the initiative and support it. These are your champions.

The second group, and one that constitutes the largest number, are the fence sitters. They do not make an initial determination of whether to support the change but will wait until they assess how others view the change.

The third group, are the blockers. No matter what you do and how successfully you present the change initiative, they will be the toughest group to work with. It will take an immense effort to bring the blockers on board.

The advice I heard early on in my career was:

  1. Do not worry about the champions as they are on board and committed anyway. Leave them alone and don’t spend too much time with them.
  2. Target most, if not all, of your efforts on the fence sitters, as they are the ones who will swing the balance to implementation success or failure.
  3. Forget about the blockers because there really is nothing you can do to convince them that the change initiative is worthwhile.

To some degree this advice can be useful. However, after leading a number of change initiatives that were successful (and some not so successful), and having witnessed other change initiatives that I was not leading, I chose to do things differently.

First, I did not categorize the people into these distinct groups. People may align themselves based on these general descriptions but each should be looked at and worked with as individuals.

Secondly, I would spend as much time as possible with all of the people and did not compartmentalize them into champions, fence sitters and blockers. To me these are labels, which can cause damage and division. It would be similar to labelling these groups as your starring cast, your cast and your outcasts which I am certain would upset many.

Finally, although you will have a range of enthusiasm and acceptance on the part of your people, have them work together.

As the leader you need to provide all of your people with an opportunity for authentic feedback and for opportunities to comment freely without fear of criticism.

This stage is the most critical step that should not be avoided in any change initiative. There will be differences of opinion expressed and there may be some things that come forward that you do not want to hear. Your timelines may also be affected and prolonged, but this step is necessary to do in order to gauge your people’s attitude, their concerns, and there positive comments. The success of the initiative going forward is dependent on this step.

It is easier to not do this and there will be moments where you wonder why you opened up the discussion as it is much easier to lead a change initiative when there is no resistance or difficulty. But I don’t think you would get successful and sustainable implementation unless the majority of people commit and embrace the implementation of change.

Invite all into the process. Listen and hear their good points and their not so good points. You will be challenged.

Be courageous and weather the potential storms of leading change initiatives as Franklin D. Roosevelt put so well, A Smooth Sea Never Made A Skilled Sailor.

Nor will it make a skilled leader.

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