When launching a new strategy or change, the last thing you want to do is announce it to the full organization. That’s why major capital fund-raising campaigns aren’t announced publicly until major donors are already on-board. And union organizing campaigns do not become public until they have secured privately the support of as much of the population as possible. You need to do the same—don’t go after the entire population with a big presentation, instead focus first on getting the buy-in of key leaders and showing them how they will benefit personally from the change. Those leaders include: Managers whose areas will be most affected by the change, managers of front-line employees, union leaders, and other respected people, opinion leaders, and experts in the organization. You have to have these groups actively engaged before implementation. So take the time to align these groups before rushing to launch. They will determine whether the change is successful or not, and if they are neutral, it’s just as bad as being negative.
This is so important to implementing a new strategy. It’s simply not enough to have an action plan for the senior group–if you’re going to redirect the organization, or change the culture, or implement a major change such as a new ERP system. For example, during the Adelphia Communications bankruptcy, the fundamental task was to keep the organization running efficiently and to retain five million customers, but first we needed to enlist the support of the 100 or so key managers and professionals before addressing the 14,000 employees. That work was incredibly important to managing through and emerging from bankruptcy. Similarly, the first step in improving a strategy and culture change in a 500 employee manufacturing company was to hold a series of workshops with management groups over a six-month period to set the direction, establish the milestones, and generate the needed energy and buy-in to make it successful–leading to 600% revenue growth in three years. The fact is, you need to develop a critical mass of support to be positive about the change.