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“If only I could get people to LISTEN to me!”

How the Organizing Mindset can change all your conversations

How the Organizing Mindset can change all your conversations

You’ve likely come across a book or two about change management before (perhaps at an airport book shop). Each book has its own model and/or strategy for driving change processes, with very useful tools about “change agents, communication campaigns, measurable behavior, etc.

Organizations all over the world regularly launch projects using these models. The management team has approved the project, and has delegated responsibility to a project manager. From the outside, many of these “change programs” appear to progress smoothly. And yet, nine times out of ten, they get stuck in the mud during the implementation phase.

There are many different causes for this, but most of them fall into two categories:

  1. After struggling to get some traction for several months, the the management team gives up, writes it off as a bad idea to begin with, and moves its attention onward to another initiative.

  2. The change project is “officially” completed and the management team takes the spotlight off (they always do). However, because the specific behaviors have not yet been integrated into the culture, you see people slowly and subtly regressing to how they did things before.

If you look under the hood you will find an enormous motivational vacuum, giving rise to various forms of resistance (active, passive, conscious, unconscious).

Pre-engagement conversation

Have you done your homework on the topic, the person, have you picked a good location and time)




Why Change Efforts Fail and What to Do

As in Stephanie’s story, a common mistake that people make is having the wrong goal: project approval from a management team (or steering committee).

While this is certainly an important milestone, it is far from the finish line. The ultimate goal is to overcome a specific challenge or take advantage or an opportunity. In order to do that, not only do you need to get formal approval, you need people to work proactively until the challenge is overcome or the opportunity is achieved.

This requires organizing: taking the time at the very beginning—way before project approval—to speak with people and create awareness of the challenge/opportunity, building interest by sharing your own ideas and getting their opinions, and motivating them to participate and lead.

Had Stephanie taken more time in the beginning to get people’s opinions, it would have given her valuable input, and would have greatly increased their engagement in the project.

If you do this groundwork (which I call Organizing), not only does it increase the likelihood of getting project approval, but you have also laid a more solid foundation for successful project implementation, because you have a coalition to mobilize, people who are invested, committed to push through the mud.

How much did you organize people before launching your last project? How many people did you speak to?

Organizing is about getting enough key stakeholders to take ownership and leadership in order to successfully implement a project/initiative. This is especially important when the project/initiative requires some change in how people work (their behavior). What makes a change project successful is that it has achieved it’s stated goals and has contributed to the strategic goals of the company.

This means you are not only trying to get approval, you are trying...

(Some projects are short or medium-term, i.e. improve profit and cash flow, whereas many—if not most projects—should have more long-term objectives as they should be tied to more strategic objectives. This relates to the eighth step in Kotter’s change model, institutionalizing the change (most companies never reach this)

Organizing requires time and a lot of work.

As in social movements and political campaigns, business leaders often confuse organizing and mobilizing and this is their downfall. As a result, they either never figure out what went wrong, or they figure it out too late.

If the groundwork (coalition building/organizing) has been properly done, once the project is approved, the Aligning process should then immediately be integrated into the implementation stage (mobilizing). This is where the change strategy is coordinated on a detailed level with key stakeholders (champions, change agents, responsible actors, etc.) into concrete day-to-day action plans that are carried out locally and monitored “globally.”  In social movements and political campaigns, this is the shift from organizing to mobilizing.

Let me be clear: If this Organizing  groundwork isn’t done, you won’t get the key stakeholders committed to the cause, and if you don’t get the key stakeholders committed to the cause, you won’t get the necessary majority of people in the organization committed to the cause. And without this, you won’t see a sustained change in behavior.

I use the word “cause” intentionally.

The one issue that has come up in coaching sessions over and over again is the need to change people’s behavior in a sustainable way. To do so requires some skills that are shared with persuasion technique, but that are more strategic. It also requires skills that are shared with change management, but are more people-friendly.

What differentiates political campaigns and social movements from corporate change initiatives is that political campaigns and social movements know that their success is so black and white. In politics, you win or lose a vote. In labor movements, you get what you’re asking for or you don’t. In social movements, the outcomes can be a little less clear, because the scope is so big (societal level) and the time line can be long (generations) but often success is defined by a concrete formalized agreement (voting rights act, legalization of gay marriage).

Because success is so clearly dependent on collective action being taken by a super-majority, these movements spend a tremendous amount of time engaging the people on the ground. This is referred to as coalition building, ground game, retail politics (I need to differentiate between them). Experienced organizers know that this needs to be separated into three key processes (segmenting, organizing, mobilizing).

First they identify everyone that they need to act, and what that action is. Who the actors are is segmented into different categories (base, GOTV, persuadables).

Mobilize – Then they identify and train their activists: people who are emotionally engaged in the cause because it is personally relevant to them. These are people who will walk the streets of their neighborhood getting people to register to vote and then to vote.

Organize – an extremely important step

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