Prepare for Politics and Trolls!

Aug 22, 2011 3 Comments by

Most large-scale changes will at some point confront political resistance within some or all of the business units that make up the larger organization.

The late, great American politician and House Speaker Tip O’Neill used to say: “All politics is local.” Hence, today’s post will offer advice on how to identify which of the five most common sources of localized political resistance your change may encounter.

As you begin to engage the distant reaches of your organizational chart, watch for these five sources of political resistance to change:

1. Power/Control Struggles: Control dynamics are present within all subsets of an org chart, just as they are at the global level. Change Agents may encounter unexpected resistance if their change appears to “choose sides” in a local power struggle.

The best way to decipher if this resistance is present is to interview or survey a sample of local managers and line staff. Listen for the prevailing political trends and map out the power dynamics of the environment you’ll be working in. Avoid explicitly stating which “side” the change supports and stick to discussing global expectations that do not vary by business unit.

2. Conflicting Local -vs- Global Interests: In most organizations, the various sub-components or business units that make up the company will be given certain performance expectations as a part of strategic planning. If each unit executes their part of the plan, the whole organization succeeds.

Most units will also be allowed a certain amount of latitude to also set local goals, as long the global and local goals are not in conflict. Sometimes the introduction of a globally-driven change can generate resistance when local stakeholders perceive a mismatch in expectations.

Dig Deeper: Learn what you can about localized strategic plans from the on-site leadership team. Have managers describe how the change you represent fits into their plans – or potentially makes it more difficult to achieve their goals. These conflicts are often expressed in terms of global initiatives competing for time and resources or threatening the daily priorities of local staff.  Make note of these details by organizational unit so you can look for global trends and identify local outliers.

3. The Perception of Support: Stakeholders often resist change based on a fear that they will be left without support. Anticipation of low support levels may be based on past history, so ask local representatives what your team can learn from past change initiatives. Was the support adequate before, during and after the change was implemented? What could be done better?

Common complaints to watch for here include:

“They didn’t give us enough time to prepare.”

“No one was available to answer our questions.”

“We were left to fend for ourselves after the last change was implemented.”

Take your Time: It’s important to start by gathering support needs from most pockets of stakeholders before promising specific solutions to anyone.  If your support approach is already planned and resourced, try to avoid making fresh, detailed support commitments that others will have to answer for!

4. Personalities:  Dealing with personalities can sometimes be the hardest form of political change resistance to address – especially since most Change Agents do not have reporting authority over local staff.

Start by sorting out the resistance that’s based on facts and data from the stuff that’s mostly about emotions. Take note of who listens to whom and who ignores whom. See who uses intimidation, bullying or derision as power/control techniques with you or with the local employees.

Learn From the Ducks: Be ready to let a few personal jabs to roll off your back while you collect this information. Avoid responding with personality-based attacks of your own as this could seriously chip away at your credibility as a supportive Change Agent. You will have plenty of opportunities to address personality-based resistance later.

5. Change Trolls: Finally, some people may challenge your change simply because it represents upsetting their status quo – especially if they feel it’s being done without their involvement. The best way to avoid this problem is to use direct engagement, but some resistors may balk at this approach.

I once used the label “Change Troll” to describe the arch-typical resistor who does not participate when given a chance to shape the change, but gladly criticizes it later. Much like the nasty troll under the bridge in the Billy Goats Gruff children’s book,  Change Trolls may bluster and threaten before demanding a steep fee to go along with the change at some later date.

The best way to root out these folks: make sure your sponsorship is strong, approach with caution and then force the ogre to show their colors in public. Don’t let them hide under the bridge and avoid expressing an opinion. In my experience, nearly all Change Trolls wither when exposed to the bright sunlight of an honest dialogue.

Summary: Politics take place within all human groups. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  It’s simply another factor Change Agents need to plan for and address in a diligent way. Start the process of dealing with political resistance by actively engaging stakeholders in identifying this persistent problem at its source.


Questions for Chatter:

  1. What happens if a global change gets bogged down in the local political battles within one of the business units?
  2. How can those responsible for the global rollout of a change best support their local Change Agents when political resistance hits?

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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!

3 Responses to “Prepare for Politics and Trolls!”

  1. chihos (@chihos) (@chihos) says:

    Change Agents Need to be Ready to Navigate Politics! #business #change #projects #pm

  2. chihos (@chihos) says:

    thx 4 the RT Jim! @keenan: Most change eventually hits political resistance. Identify it: #leadchange

  3. chihos (@chihos) says:

    Most change eventually encounters internal political resistance. How to identify it: #pmot #baot #leadchange

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