Good ideas seem to be almost as difficult to implement as bad ones. But if the quality of the policy isn't matched by the level of resistance, what is?
Well, I've noticed there is a moment in every policy implementation that seems critical to success or failure. And that's the moment of the public announcement.
If it's done well, people tend to go along. If not, it's all over before anything begins. Heels dig in and the battle of wills starts. (Of course, if a policy is truly odious, the best announcement won't help. But most decisions are neither magical nor malignant.)
I've also noticed a pattern of how these announcements go wrong. There are four basic types of failures.
1. No one finds out Surprisingly, managers don't always tell the staff about their decisions. This may sound funny, but it's possible for a group of managers to get together, debate an important topic, come to a conclusion and just assume that everyone knows what to do next.
No one outside of the room will ever find out because it was never anyone's responsibility to tell the staff. And the initiative will die of neglect. This is just poor planning.
2. Replay In this version, a decision is made and announced, but then it's debated all over again by the people affected. It is neither accepted nor rejected, but taken as a proposal rather than as a policy.
Here, the announcement fails to offer a compelling narrative to the staff. They may understand the content of the decision, but it isn't persuasive. So the debate that the management team had plays out all over again around the water cooler. And there, the proposal dies, is modified or – occasionally – is accepted.
3. No-op Here, a decision is made and announced, but the employees affected either ignore or resist it. It's like a no-op instruction in assembly language. Everyone files out of the meeting room and just goes back to work as if nothing has happened.
This is probably the most common failure mode. The problem is that, for one reason or another, the manager announcing the policy lacks the necessary credibility. The decision itself may seem too big for them to make, or the announcer may simply not have the respect of the staff.
4. Excessive paternalism And finally, a decision is made and announced, but decision-makers provide very little information, in a misguided attempt to protect employees from the messy politics of the organisation. Sometimes this is a precursor to failure modes two and three, above, but it has its own dynamic.
When people don't understand the reasoning behind a decision, they will often make up conspiracy theories about what is really going on. This ends up wasting time and convincing the staff that management is hiding something. Even an ugly truth is usually better than nothing at all.
So, if you want to implement change in your organisation, don't just think about what changes to make. Spend some time thinking about how you're going to announce it, and get people on board to implement it.
If you think about each failure mode while planning an announcement, you can anticipate and avoid many of the most common sources of resistance.