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The Politics of Change

People process change on three levels: rational, emotional, and political. These all have a direct effect on the Desire building block of the ADKAR change model. People adopt change for combinations of rational, emotional, and political reasons.

The tool kit of project activities addressing each is robust. The rational lays out why the change simply makes sense from a business perspective. The emotional helps people through perceived and real risks or threats. The political is less straight forward and often underutilized. True, it encompasses senior leadership in town hall meetings and “walking the talk”. But when one understands “the political”, there is much more to it.

Behaviorally, politics does not mean left or right, liberal or conservative. It is the way that people living in groups make decisions. They make agreements so they can live together in tribes, cities, countries…and corporate cultures. When one says corporate culture, keep in mind that within the corporate culture, each function develops its own adaptation. Engineering is different from accounting, is different from marketing.

Within employee populations, there are at least three additional political forces at work with far more influence than senior management. They are line management, union leadership, and the social network. By “social network” I mean the intra-employee relationships that influence individual perception, preferences, and rumor pipelines.

There are people in every organization who may not be in leadership positions but are trusted by employees and management alike. They have the company’s and their coworkers’ best interests at heart. They’ve been around a while and know how to “get things done”. They seem to know everybody. Just passing through other departments, they warmly exchange greetings with fellow employees. They have invaluable social acumen about the employee population.

Agile projects identify these people as department ambassadors or informal leaders. They can bring a lot of value to change efforts in various roles. One is as a fulltime member of the core team. They bring their experience with existing processes and contribute to redesign. They can act as a sounding board for organizational receptiveness of proposed changes. Outside the team, they can visit “the water cooler” and break rooms. Update their network, answer questions on what’s happening, counter inaccurate rumor. They return to the team with feedback that can finetune the change management effort.

Additionally, as part of the core team, they develop new skills supporting future initiatives. These skills include stakeholder management, cross-functional facilitation, meeting management, roles and responsibility charting, charter development, implementation training and coaching.


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