So you’ve found your voice as a change agent – you’ve gotten your hearing, you’ve persuaded senior management, and now the organization is ready to roll. My question: are you ready for your first big surprise?
I’m asking that question because an organization’s irrational resistance to change can quickly flip into an equally irrational embrace, a big surprise that’s does not bode well.
For example, let’s say what your company needs is $2 million worth of transformation to reach a new, achievable plateau. Once persuaded, your CEO could easily decide to go “all in” (with the entire company wishlist) and shoot for an unachievable plateau that will cost $6 million. The CEO could trumpet this bold initiative to staff, customers, and even investors. And you could be the one holding the bag.
Are you happy now?
The challenge for you is that the skills you used to gain support (vision and articulate persuasion) are not the skills you need once you have it (expectations management and executive control). The latter are skills of a higher order, and they are not as likely to be part of your repertoire.
As absurd as this scenario may sound, it happens all the time. When executive egos and corporate identity get involved, very powerful forces are unleashed. I have personal experience with this scenario, and the only way to describe it is “out of control”.
With these risks in mind, I’m going to offer you a rule to follow before you start persuading in the first place:
When instigating change, never rely on a proxy!
What does this mean? Well, in the scenario I’ve presented, if you are trying to influence the CEO for major change, I’m suggesting you do not rely on your supervisor. Yes, you will need your supervisor’s support. And your supervisor may provide you initial access to the CEO. But you do not want your supervisor (or their supervisors) controlling your access to the CEO.
If you can’t develop a good, direct business relationship with the CEO around the change you’re thinking of proposing, I suggest you keep your proposal under your hat. Even if you feel you have trusted allies, their aid will not be sufficient when the elephant awakens, and they have other fish to fry. If you are the visionary, it is you who must have the relationship, because only you have both the passion and position to collaborate with the CEO to adapt the vision in a way that manages their expectations and helps them save face.
Successful change depends as much on managing the momentum of the power brokers as it does on disturbing their inertia. Whether you actively aspire to be a change agent, or just find yourself cast in that role (as I did), you’ll find that developing a close relationship with power makes the difference between success and failure.