Using Corporate Politics To Drive Change
Change Starts With Alignment
The need to have people on the same page is huge when implementing a major change. This is particularly true when the change involves thinking differently to solve a problem that can’t be solved by doing things better, faster, or cheaper. Enabling leaders to get people aligned is always necessary, but is seldom easy.
Harness The Power of Politics
Alignment is also an area where an objective outside point of view can really help. The reason for that is corporate politics: the hidden (and sometimes not so hidden) agendas competing just under the surface in large organizations. Politics in the office have the power to sink a change initiative or catapult it to raging success. To get to the latter, you need to think politically. It’s easy to say but what does that look like in a world where anything close to being, ‘political’ is the antithesis of effective?
Change Your Perspective
Thinking and acting politically is not about joining the bureaucracy standing in the way of progress. It is about taking a very hard and realistic look at the agendas of all the stakeholders involved in a change. It is seeking to understand how their situation relates to the proposed change and how it will affect them, so you know how to plan for and address the transitions they will go through. The concerns they will deal with are very real and will have a huge impact on whether or not they will align behind the change or quietly seek to undermine it.
A leading expert in tackling adaptive challenges, Ron Heifetz, perfectly describes how to think things through change from a stakeholder’s perspective in his book, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership. For each stakeholder, you need to identify their:
- Stakes – How will they be affected by the change? Think in terms of them personally, their team and their business. Intangibles like credibility or influence are important stakes to consider.
- Desired Outcomes – What do they want to happen in terms of this change? It often makes sense to ask them directly in a safe environment.
- Engagement – How much (or little) do they care about the change? Figuring out where it is on their radar will go a long way to helping you figure out how to make it a focus.
- Power and Influence – What resources and people do they control and what or who is competing for those resources or time?
- Values – What commitments have they made and what beliefs do they have that guide their decisions? Positioning the change favorably in terms of what’s important to them will help to create alignment.
- Loyalties – What obligations and relationships do they have with people outside their group that could impact the change? Don’t underestimate the degree to which they will support an ally’s position.
- Losses at Risk – What do they fear losing as a result of the change (status, resources, power, etc.)?
The best way to gather this information is almost always to ask directly. The fact is, however, you may not get an honest answer. You’ll need to make judgment calls and do your best to interpret what you hear along with your observations. The other challenge to accuracy here is your own objectivity. It is easy to get caught up in your own agenda of implementing the change. Your own assumptions about other stakeholders can create a blindside if you aren’t able to fly up to a 50,000-foot view and look down at the situation to see it in its entirety. That’s where an objective point of view helps.