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Converting the Dissenter; Part Three

As a follow-up to last week’s blog https://www.govloop.com/profiles/blog/list?user=1l6nclusxlq6q, this week’s entry concludes our discussion of the tactics that the Change Management Champion (CMC) can utilize to mitigate change resistors, also known as dissenters. As mentioned in my previous two blogs on this topic, frequently a combination of mitigation approaches may need to be utilized together or sequentially, as the initial approach may not be successful. This three blog series encompasses ten distinct mitigation strategies. In this week’s blog we will focus on the final three mitigation approaches, which are:

  1. Identify and win over the most vocal dissenter
  2. Create a sacrifice
  3. Leverage money or influence
  1. Identify and win over the most vocal dissenter – In every public sector organization I have worked with there are opinion leaders, who are typically very vocal. Also, in every organization I have worked with there is at least one employee, and frequently more than one, who is vocal and vehemently opposes change. As discussed in previous blogs when a dissenter is vocal they can poison the entire project with their bombastic comments. I suggest to the CMCs to consistently target the loudest dissenter because by “cutting off the head, the body will die.” To support this conversion process, I would suggest having a one-on-one meeting with the dissenter. I have seen a few situations where a dissenter was “called out” in a group meeting and it backfired terribly. The dissenter became emboldened and his supporters increased. During these one-on-one meetings, the CMCs should determine if they should attend. In many instances securing a colleague that the dissenters respect could be used to meet with them to understand their concerns and facilitate the conversion process. Taking the time to understand their concerns builds trust and credibility. Many times, dissenters just want to be heard and validated. During a CRM implementation in Cleveland, the loudest dissenter was eventually converted and he became one of our most vocal cheerleaders. This tactic can be particularly effective in dealing with resistance from organized labor.
  2. Create a Sacrifice – This is a very serious tactic that is not frequently utilized, but when deployed is incredibly powerful in eradicating dissension and resistance. This tactic involves removing a key employee (typically someone in a supervisory position) that is exhibiting inappropriate and pointless resistance to change. By doing this, organizations can deliver a forceful message that they are serious about this project and gratuitous resistance will not be tolerated. In addition, the organization demonstrates that the consequences for not getting on board with the project are tangible. This tactic should only be utilized as a last resort. In a recent situation where I have seen this tactic utilized, the departing employee received a generous termination package which was favorable for the employee while simultaneously sending a convincing message to the organization.
  3. Leverage money or influence – Similar to the previous tactic, this one should be utilized after all other approaches have not been successful, and the employee cannot, or will not leave the organization. When supervisory personnel are resistant to change, yet critical to the success of the project, there are two enticements that may be used to gain their support.
  • Accelerate the timetable for a promotion to a position they have expressed interest in or were targeted to get in the short-term. This must be a position they have earned and are qualified for, or else this may appear as if they are getting “bought off” to support the project.
  • Adjust their overall compensation package or create a bonus program which rewards them for their role in successfully deploying the initiative

There are rare instances that a manager/supervisor is essential to ensure a successful project, and as the executive sponsor or CMC you need to decide how much you are willing to give them to secure their support. It is important to quantify what their individual contribution is worth to the project so you can develop a compensation package that is aligned with the behavior you expect. This negotiation process should focus on the precise actions and behaviors that you expect from them to support the effort.

Tune in for our next set of blogs which will focus on different types of communication tactics to utilize during the CM process.

Check out my previous ten Change Management Blogs at:

Change Happens—How Do You Manage It?


The Impact of Ignoring Change


Getting it Right: Critical Success Factors for Change Management Initiatives, Part 1


Getting it Right: Critical Success Factors for Change Management Initiatives, Part 2


Creating the Secret Sauce – Selecting Change Management Champions


Why Do We Resist? Categorizing the Different Types of Resistance


“People don’t Resist Change. They Resist Being Changed!”


“Whosoever Desires Constant Success must Change his Conduct with the Times.”


“The Greatest Danger in Times of Turbulence is not the Turbulence; it is to Act with Yesterday’s Logic.”


Converting the Dissenter: Part Two


Spencer Stern specializes in assessing the business and process impact of new technology-based solutions, ranging from enterprise-wide software systems to wireless communications networks. In 2008 he launched Stern Consulting where he continues to focus on assessing the financial impact of large-scale municipal strategic implementations. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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Joe Flood

Is this for real? The language about “eradicating dissention” (sic) and making a sacrifice is worrisome. And promoting dissenters is a really cynical tactic. Having seen change management in big organizations before, I don’t think you can hammer employees into shape, especially it comes from the top down. Real change comes from giving employees the tools to do their jobs and allowing them the freedom to experiment with new solutions.

Spencer Stern

Joe thanks for your feedback. Making a sacrifice is quite common in the current political environment where public sector organizations are having to be more accountable and must do more with less. I am working with two clients where tenured employees were given the opportunity to migrate to a new a new non-emergency call center that was being built. In both situations there were employees that were actively resisting, and the city managers offered them a retirement option which they took. They were not interested in changing and their departure sent a strong message to the remaining employees

Currently I am working with another client who is deploying a 311 call center and the city manager is such an enthusiastic supporter that it is infectious. There is so much excitement from the staff to be on the project team and in call center that the demand exceeds the supply. It is rare in the public sector to have such strong executive sponsorship (top-down approach) translate into action from the rank and file, but it’s a beautiful thing when it occurs.

I would never suggest promoting someone to win their support. The recommended approach in the blog was to accelerate a promotion for an employee who has earned it. If you place unqualified personnel into position they are not ready for you are just creating new problems.