How to drive ‘Real’ change

In the Harvard Business Review there is an article by Jen Overbeck about business change which begins

Most workplaces face constant imperatives for change—from trivial-seeming matters such as installing new office printers to major ones such as implementing new policies to support diversity. The question of how to drive change, though, is perennially vexing.  Some things make it easier: If you are the boss, you can order change (although that doesn’t always work).”  

If you are a regular reader of this site you will know that I have long observed that change has to be facilitated not mandated. 

If you are faced with trying to persuade people to change something, and if they perceive what you want them to do as unreasonable or contrary to their best interests then they simply will ignore your request.  If you push, this generates further resistance from them and they will actively fight you.  So it is important that you start with something that they might consider.  We all have a range of positions on every topic from completely for it to absolute opposition, and usually something in between these extremes.  This spectrum is referred to in text books as the ‘latitude of acceptance’.  There is a part of this spectrum within which we are prepared to countenance change or adjustment of our position.  Imagine the boss asks the team to work late.  Some people will feel this is ok, especially if they understand the need for it or are rewarded for it, others will have commitments outside work that might make it impossible.  It maybe I am willing to do it once, or I might be able to accommodate it if I am given adequate notice, however, a last minute request might be impossible.  In order to avoid a flat out “I can’t do it” the request has to fall inside my ‘OK Zone’.  In fact, if you push me I might start digging in and be even more adverse to considering an alternative suggestion from you, as I now feel I am fighting for something.

In order to pitch your initial request inside this OK Zone, you need to ask a few questions to find out where they are now.  There is a good example of this in the original article.  Having established where they currently are, you can then begin, in ‘baby steps’ to lead them in the direction you want them to travel. 

Ask yourself:-

  1. Where are they now?
  2. What are the incremental steps that could take them in the desired direction?
  3. Who might help influence or change their willingness to consider this?
  4. How much change is actually required now, is a step or two in the right direction enough to begin with?
  5. What might be holding them back and what could I do to remove these impediments?


  1. Harvard Business Review – You don’t have to be the boss..

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