Leaders and managers can be absolutely critical to the success of your change. They are the people closest to the people - the direct line managers and chains of command to the impacted teams. It doesn't matter if your change is related to a project or it's just an internal team change, if your leaders and managers aren't onboard and supporting your change, it can derail even the best change efforts.
I was once working on a change where the most senior leader was fully onboard with the change and committed to trying new things and creative approaches for a pretty difficult team. But that senior leaders' direct reports... oh my goodness, they were so resistant it was like pulling teeth. Why wouldn't they just listen to what their boss was telling them and act accordingly? #soannoying
Well, change isn't as simple as that. And if you're leading change - you've got to be a detective to solve the case as to why they're being so resistant.
Here's 10 reasons why your leaders might not be supporting your change:
1. You've made it too detailed
One of the favourite tools of the students in my Leading Successful Change program is an NLP technique called "chunking". In a nutshell, if you've made your change too complex or the way you presented it is too detailed, you may have inadvertently caused friction and disagreement. Less is more in many cases! Let them ask for the detail.
2. They are scared they'll lose something
No one - and I mean no one - likes to lose something they already have. Except maybe Marie Kondo when she's decluttering, but really she's taking things away in order to spark MORE joy #ftw. In so many cases, at a conscious or unconscious level, the leader is interpreting your change as meaning loss for them: loss of status, control, pride, power, their job. And that fear... drives everything from then on in. Telling them what they'll gain at a rational, conscious level isn't enough. You simply must work at a deeper emotional level to have them truly feel the benefits and abundance.
3. They think it's going to be too hard to get their people onboard
The number of changes I've worked on that have been completely derailed because of one thing: leader reluctance to have difficult conversations. Seriously - many leaders are not leaders. They are managers in leader's clothing. They do not have the people skills or leadership skills to deal with the emotional reactions and potential blame, guilt, fear and anger of their team. In some cases - they never even wanted to be people leaders! They just had a lot of technical skill and tenure and... bam - they got the role. You have got to build their confidence and resilience, and do this for the small changes as well as the big.
4. They feel they don't have the time
Leaders are busy and usually - most leaders actually are doing 2 jobs. They are doing the doing, AND they are leading the team. The best leaders are only leading the team and they delegate the doing. But budgets, under-resourced teams, micromanaging, and a never-ending parade of organisational changes hitting their inbox mean they probs just feeling overwhelmed. Help them get clarity and declutter, even if that means coaching them to delegate.
5. You've presented the change in a way that clashes with their personality type
When you learn about personality types, it changes EVERYTHING. How you communicate, how you train, how you influence, how you collaborate and how you celebrate. It might have nothing to do with the change, and everything to do with the fact that the way you framed it or brought it to them grated on their deepest nerves.
6. You've presented the change in a way that clashes with their primary representational system
Did you know there are 4 representational systems that impact the way people like to be taken through information, like to learn, and like to make decisions? If you didn't, then chances are you've probably presented the change in a way that simply doesn't speak to their primary, or most preferred representational system.
7. They don't understand the value of the change
This is one if your leader isn't supporting your change efforts full-stop... so it's not even the specific change, but just Change generally. In most of my classes, webinars and courses I show a "Value of Change" slide that helps explain why taking a Change approach can infinitely lead to great success in the short- and long-term.
8. There's other stuff going down in the organisation
So guilty of this! Ok, so your change is the most important thing to you. BUT! Often there's a ton of other changes, some of which you don't even know about and could be months in the development behind closed-doors. So sometimes it's not that there's not enough time, it's that your change is simply coming to them at the wrong time. Here's where good trusting relationships really matter - you'll get the inside scoop on other priorities.
9. They are done
We're at a really interesting place right now where we still have a lot of people working when their role or their career has really just expired. And they haven't moved on - they haven't stepped up to promotion, or moved to consulting, or simply retired. And they are jaded. And no amount of dressing up your change in sheep's clothing is going to motivate them. #hardtruth
10. They have stuff going on in their personal lives
People are not robots. And they might think they can separate work and life but they can't. Emotions are emotions and when things are stressful at work, most people will take that stress home. Especially when working remotely or in lockdown. So the same must be true in reverse. Again - it may have nothing to do with you or your change.
Ultimately - it comes down to understanding where each individual leader is coming from, what's driving and motivating them, and empathising with them, and then having the skills to influence them to get onboard with your change so you can make the positive impact you want. After all - isn't that why you're leading change in the first place?
I'm Lata Hamilton - a Change Leadership expert and the creator of Leading Successful Change, a 6-week course that will grow your confidence to lead change end-to-end so you can have the influence and impact you want. Get my latest free video lesson on building stakeholder trust instantly here.