Forcing Change

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Part and parcel of being a leader is driving change in an organization. Your ability to say “yes” and then put resources to work to make things happen are probably the two biggest sources of your power. 

And yet, even when you do say yes, sometimes that change doesn’t happen. Why? There are numerous reasons—some good, some neutral, some bad. Those reasons almost don’t matter, though. If you’re convinced that the change is the right thing to do, then it needs to happen. That means you need to deliver it. And this is the subject of this week’s newsletter.

There are a variety of things you can do to improve execution of large change management initiatives. The best way of doing this is through thorough upfront planning. But when that fails, sometimes you just need to push things through.

As always, let me know what you think. Just reply to this email, and thanks for reading!

Forcing Change

One of the hardest things we have to do at times as leaders is to push our teams through change.

Resistance to change comes in all shapes and sizes. We most often think of resistance to change as a net negative. Change often implies a shift in company power structures. Those who stand to lose may believe it is in their interest to resist. Change is highly disconcerting for those who struggle to adapt to new things—which may have nothing to do with their negativity as people, and everything to do with how they manage the legitimate anxiety that change can bring.

Resistance to change can be constructive, too, though. It is entirely reasonable to point out how change can break things that are currently working well, both operationally and in terms of the expectations and incentives they create in the team and with customers.

The reality, as any seasoned leader will know, is simply that change is hard for an organization, and the degree of difficulty getting change over the line increases geometrically with size.

Here’s how I have successfully driven major transformations. The approach has worked in companies of all sizes, albeit I’ve emphasized certain aspects depending on the environment.

1. Be Clear Yourself on What, Why, When, and How

Preparation Matters

When you’re clear about what’s happening, the team will feel more confident and less resistant. Create a concise summary that explains the change in a way that’s easy to understand. Recognize as well, though, that you will need the details to explain its implications. For instance, how will the tech stack change, and how will new workflows impact daily routines? What does it mean for clients? How will people’s roles and responsibilities evolve?

Visualize the Journey

A visual representation of the ‘before’ and ‘after’ states will be immensely helpful. Highlight the current state and the desired future state, emphasizing the key improvements in efficiency, performance, and/or culture. The transition phase is often the most challenging, so pay special attention to explaining how the ‘in-between’ stage will unfold. Outline the challenges and temporary adjustments required during the shift.

Anticipate Questions

Anticipate the team’s questions and concerns by preparing a comprehensive FAQ. Cover aspects like “Why is this change necessary?”, “How will it impact my role?” and “What support will be available?”

2. Drive Alignment to Iron Out Objections

Start Small

Begin by building consensus among key decision-makers. Once they are on board, expand the circle gradually, ensuring each layer of leadership aligns with the vision before involving the broader team.

Agree on Strategy First…

Achieving strategic alignment requires agreement on the ‘whys.’ Ensure everyone understands the strategic rationale before diving into tactical details. This builds a unified foundation and minimizes resistance.

…and Be Ready Immediately for Tactical Questions

Quite often the strategic discussions lead directly to questions of ‘how’ and ‘what’. Indeed, the deeper you go in the organization, the more likely people will want to know what the day-to-day implications are for them. Be ready to talk through these.

The Six Thinking Hats
One of the hardest parts about achieving alignment is the different ways people approach problems. Some are logical while others are emotional. Some see positives where others see negatives. My favorite way of working through these is by using a discussion framework developed by psychologist Edward De Bono called the Six Thinking Hats. It allows your team to explore all the ways of looking at a problem and ensures each is discussed fully. In my experience, a couple of hours using this framework eliminates months of headaches that arise when you inevitably discover that everyone wasn't on the same page. Here is a good explanation of the technique.

3. Project Manage the Change Process Relentlessly

Define Roles and Responsibilities

Identify an executive sponsor who will provide strategic direction and a program manager who will handle day-to-day execution. Ensure both roles are clearly defined and visible to the team.

Create a Plan

Develop a comprehensive plan with specific tasks and milestones, assigning each task to an accountable individual or team with clear deadlines.

Establish Communication Cadences

Establish a cadence of project meetings to review progress and address roadblocks. Make sure to also plan broader organizational communications to keep everyone informed about key milestones.

Create a Decision-Making Cell

Create a small decision-making group that can address challenges rapidly and make critical decisions without unnecessary delays. This cell should have the authority to implement changes swiftly and ensure alignment across the team.

Define Success Metrics

Determine key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure progress. Regularly track and communicate progress to keep everyone aligned and motivated.

Accountability and Flexibility

Be prepared to adapt plans based on evolving challenges, but maintain strict accountability for progress.

4. Handle Speed Bumps

The best way to minimize problems is through thorough planning. Inevitably, though, you will face different obstacles. This is where leaders need to be decisive, and occasionally forceful.

Individual Objections to Issues That Were Already Agreed

There will be times where, even after allowing for discussion and providing clarification, people still object, drag their feet, or act in ways (which may be passive-aggressive) that illustrate their lack of conviction. For those still objecting, ensure they understand the necessity of alignment. Visibility is crucial, so use metrics to ensure accountability and open discussions to help individuals understand the impact of their objections on overall progress. If you can’t break through, then it’s time for a tough conversation. Emphasize that, while disagreements are understandable, the train has left the station, and the objectors need to get on board.

Moving Too Slow

Moving too slowly only prolongs the uncertainty of the ‘in-between’ stage, causing anxiety and reducing productivity. If people aren’t sticking to the plan, then first figure out whether the plan was realistic. If people are just dragging their feet, then accelerate the pace by having tough conversations and providing clear visibility into timelines and progress. Speed breeds momentum and minimizes resistance.

Unanticipated Consequences

Assuming you have done the legwork to achieve alignment, unanticipated consequences will be the only legitimate reasons for halting progress. Typically these will arise from inadequate or poor planning. You will need to decide how important the implications of unexpected issues are. Rapid decision-making cells can identify issues and quickly adjust plans to minimize disruption.


Forcing change through is obviously not an ideal practice; however, it’s understandable why objections arise. The best way for leaders to do this is as follows.

Be Prepared

Know your strategic reasons for change and have conviction that it’s the right path. This conviction will resonate with the team and inspire confidence.

Do Due Diligence

Conduct thorough due diligence to ensure your plan is comprehensive and realistic. Be upfront about potential gaps, and ensure your team understands the risks.

Be the Cheerleader-in-Chief

Be a vocal exponent for change. Drive alignment and reduce objections through consistent, clear communication that emphasizes the vision and benefits.

Push Relentlessly

Relentlessly push things through to achieve the desired outcome. Change requires assertive leadership and unwavering focus on the end goal. You don’t need to be a jerk, but you will almost certainly need to cajole, coax, and occasionally coerce people to get going.

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