Once upon a time, I had ten cats.
Yes, it was a lot. Yes, it was very furry. Yes, I went through a lot of kitty litter!
Maybe I’m stretching a metaphor to the breaking point, but in my experience, trying to get all stakeholders in a change initiative heading in the right direction can be a whole lot like herding cats.
Some of them are all in. (Thank goodness, right?)
Some are a bit more cautious.
And some give lip service to senior leadership, but outside the CEO’s office they’re all too ready to explain why they can’t give you the support you need.
So yeah. It’s a lot like herding cats, as perfectly demonstrated in this Super Bowl commercial from 2000.
Okay. All joking aside (and I will never get tired of that video), what, realistically, do you do when faced with trying to cat-herd your stakeholders?
First, who are the stakeholders?
It’s not only your team. It’s every person who’s responsible for areas that the change impacts.
So for a technology change – since that’s my primary expertise and experience – it includes those who will be using the technology after it’s implemented.
More specifically, it’s the leaders of the people who will be using it, as well as any internal thought leaders (and you know who they are; they’re the people who don’t have the official rank or title, but who are looked up to by their peers as someone whose opinions matter. In high school, they were the popular girls and the football stars…).
Identify your stakeholders, especially those whose support you need, but who may not be ready to give it.
Yes, I know. It takes time to listen, time you might not have.
I have clients who, when I say listen, tell me that they don’t want to hear the complaints and they don’t have time to do all that listening.
Especially since I also recommend – strongly recommend – one-on-one individual conversations with the key stakeholders.
But as I say to my clients, and I cannot emphasize this enough: the time you take to listen to those reluctant stakeholders, demonstrating genuine curiousity about their concerns and then addressing those concerns, will repay you a thousandfold as you move forward with their support instead of without it.
The first step in easing their concerns is listening.
When you listen, you learn things. You learn that they have legitimate and even reasonable concerns. You discover their perspectives. As the rocket scientist (for real), lawyer and law professor, author, and speaker Ozan Varol points out,
If you disagree with someone, it’s not because you’re right, and they’re wrong. It’s because they believe something that you don’t believe. They have a different perspective you’re missing.
Go into each conversation – each listening – with the belief that you’ll learn something valuable.
This is key: once you’ve listened and learned, you must respond.
Now that you know their concerns, do something about them. Plan how to mitigate those concerns. Tell them your plan, and adjust it according to their feedback. Get their agreement that the plan addresses their concerns, and that they’ll support you if you follow through on the plan.
Keep them in the loop as you move forward. Let them know that the things you planned together are in fact being done. And if the plan isn’t working as expected, take their feedback and adjust accordingly.
You’ll have a better outcome
This is, in essence, risk identification and mitigation. And those people who start out as annoying nay-sayers can be terrific risk managers on your behalf, seeing problems that you might not see or might be inclined to overlook.
Your outcome will be better, and your colleagues will be more likely to trust you going forward.
Not too bad for a little cat-herding, right?
I have experience working with small/medium technology companies on both internal change initiatives, and how they can support their clients through the changes caused by the technology they provide. Want to learn more? Contact me and we’ll set a time to talk.