How to Avoid Eating One’s Hat

May 09, 2015 No Comments by

theBigRocks Vertical union JackYou’ve no doubt heard that “change is everywhere” and “change is the only constant”.

But that doesn’t mean basic elements of human group transformation cannot be understood and your organization’s changes cannot be made progressively more successful.

One way to improve your team’s adaptability is to instill a Change Agent’s mindset, where people draw lessons about successful change from events in the world around them.

Today’s case in point is pulled from this week’s news headlines and offers three take-aways for Change Agents:

  1. Not all predictions of doom for your change are valid.
  2. Nor are all predictions of blissful change adoption.
  3. Bottom Line: Don’t trust the polls.

Let’s get on with the news…theBigRocks Cameron Frown

The Pre-Game Hype: British Prime Minister David Cameron was supposed to get a slap in the face from the UK electorate this past week. Pre-election polls showed that his Conservative party would experience a inconclusive result at the hands of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties. This setback would leave the PM struggling to appease his rivals and doomed to cobble together a coalition government with no clear mandate for anyone’s political agenda.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the actual voting booth…

The Tories Tore it Up: This week’s UK general elections were as surprising as they were decisive. The decisive part: Conservatives won enough seats to form a majority government without the usual hand-wringing and negotiation associated with assembling a ruling coalition.

theBigRocks Cameron HappyCameron’s team won. He checked in with the Queen and promptly got to work on setting his chosen course for the country.

The surprising part was that the Conservatives won so clear a victory after virtually all of the predictive polls for several months leading up to the election showed the race to be a dead heat.

Reporters and pundits were shocked as they watched the initial results pour in.

Former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown even questioned the data by offering to publicly eat his hat if the actual results matched the early exit polling trends. Of course, the results turned out to be true. But as politicians often do, Paddy backed away from his fedora-snacking pledge as easily as any politician would dodge any campaign promise. He ate a marzipan cake version instead!

If you are into UK politics, you can read all about Paddy’s reaction here and track the election fallout here.

theBigRocks Paddy Eats a HatReams are being written about how the pollsters got it so wrong, but that’s not my concern today. Instead, I suggest that Change Agents can learn three lessons from this story:

  1. Not all predictions of doom for your change are valid.
  2. Take all predictions of blissful change adoption with a grain of salt.
  3. Bottom Line: Don’t trust the polls.

First Change Agent Take-Away: Don’t Panic at the First Sign of Failure.

Nearly every group of humans going through transformation experiences one or two “pits of despair” along the way (See my earlier posts on “the Change Curve” here and here).

theBigRocks PanicChange Agents need to know that these dark hours do not necessarily spell doom for a change. Instead they represent a call to action. Dig into the sources of the despair and aggressively address the needs of your impacted stakeholders.

Chances are they’re telling you about an element of the change that you failed to adequately plan for or they are manifesting resistance in the hope that you and your change will just go away.

In either case, you have work to do and you have no time to sit around moping!

Second Change Agent Take-Away: Take All Predictions of Blissful Change Adoption with a Grain of Salt!

theBigRocks Silly WalksThe antithesis of caving to gloom at the first sign of difficulty is adopting an overly-optimistic view of how well your transformation is going. Remember that sometimes people will tell you what they think you want to hear – especially if you’re in their direct reporting chain or they perceive you have influence with the people they report to.

Some organizational cultures have such low levels of trust that people fear being honest about their true feelings toward the change will result in their being labeled as “problem people” or “resistant to change”.

The best way to nip this concern in the bud is to establish an environment where people can share their concerns and questions about the change openly and early in the process.

Third Change Agent Take-Away: Don’t Trust the Polls!

Finally, remember that in real-life elections, no poll can replace the actual vote.

Make no mistake, people will “vote” on your change by either adopting it, ignoring it or flat-out rejecting it.

As you measure change adoption and look for signs of resistance, don’t take the easy path and over-rely on surveys and anonymous email boxes to gather trends. Change Agents and Sponsors of Change need to get out of their chairs and engage in real dialogue with real people.

the Mirror polls suckThere is no substitute for getting out into the field and having honest human conversations with actual stakeholders.

Take the time.

Do it right.

Get your eyes and ears out there if you want to know the truth about how your change is being perceived.

Summary: Pre-election voter samples across the UK clearly failed to predict the strong showing turned in by Conservative party candidates on election night. Change Agents and Sponsors of Change can learn three clear lessons based on this cautionary tale:

Don’t get too high.

Don’t get too low.

Don’t trust the polls.


Questions for Chatter:

  1. Have you ever been part of a change that appeared to be rolling toward the finish line only to be blindsided by implementation flaws or serious resistance? What clues do you think the change team may have missed?
  2. Have you ever waited until the last minute to prepare yourself for change adoption only to discover something about the change that really rubbed you the wrong way – and maybe even forced you to reject it? What could you or the team have done differently to address this gap earlier?

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Change Agent Skills, Change Communication, Change Execution, Change Leadership, Stakeholder Readiness, Team Dynamics

About the author

I help people and teams succeed with big changes... never a dull moment!
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