Driving change: When to involve the troops

Leadership is always a delicate balance, and knowing when to involve your staff in an important initiative is just one of these balancing acts – and the timing needs to be just right. In this extract from his book, Leadership: It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint, Gordon Tredgold shares the perfect time to bring in support

Driving change: When to involve the troops
When you’re fighting a battle, how long do you have to fight it alone? What’s a duel, and what’s a war? When should you call for reinforcements? When can you expect to find an army at your back? Someone asked me the question: At what point do we need to involve more people – like experts – when we’re shooting for those big goals?

This is an interesting and difficult question to answer. I see it as a very tough balancing act that we have to get right. If you involve too many people too early, then your goals run the risk of becoming tempered and watered down. On the other hand, if you involve too few people or involve them too late, people might feel excluded and this can then lead to resistance, tension and lack of commitment. That can be a huge source of conflict. In my opinion, the team defining the objectives and the goals needs to be small. And by small, I mean perhaps one to two people.

 I’ll explain why I’m so conservative with that number. The more people you have involved in defining the goal, the more reasons they’ll provide you as to why you cannot hit your target. (It’s more ‘natural’ to think initially of what could go wrong. Remember when someone turned up late for a date or a meeting? A dozen bad scenarios probably ran through your head – from he doesn’t like me anymore to maybe he got into a car crash. Turned out, he’d just stopped to fill up with petrol.) If there are too many people involved, your goal will be watered down from big, bold and beautiful to small and not-so-impressive. It’s nobody’s fault, per se; it’s just the way of people, for there are as many opinions as there are voices. In the end, it’s your decision, and your voice has to make the choice.

We need to be dedicated and fearless when setting big and ambitious goals, and this is more easily done if we only have to deal with (or convince) a small group. Large groups tend to be more cautious, argumentative and often lean toward the safe side – not what you need when setting big, bold goals. You need healthy doses of risk, ambition and creativity, and those characteristics can get trampled by the masses. I’ve experienced this in the workplace time and time again, like that time when I set one company’s goal for an on-time delivery increase to 80% (as compared to our old average performance of 35%). If I had consulted with a larger group, I am sure we would have tempered the goal and probably set it at 60%; 80% wouldn’t have even been considered, much less reached.

In my opinion, keep the team to a minimum when you’re at the first step of defining success and setting the goals for a change.

So then, the second step. You have to define the why behind the what: why this goal is important, what the benefits are, the reasons behind it and so forth. The more inspirational the goal, the more convincing your why – and the bigger the buy-in.

This is when more people begin to show up. As soon as what and why have been defined, you can begin gathering an army to tackle how. Remember this: The goal is non-negotiable now. There will be those who will try to deter you from it. There will be those who won’t be able to fathom the big picture. But the team’s focus should be on brainstorming and mapping out the road to success. The vision of success has already been taken care of. All the energy must now be channelled to discovering how to achieve the bold goals – not how to temper or reset them.
The three key principles to driving change are:
  • Define the problem (the goal) with as few people as possible
  • Create an important and inspiring reason that people can buy into
  • Define the solution (the strategy for success while involving and welcoming more people – the troops)

There will always be some resistance, of course. You need to see beyond that now. The Chinese have a popular proverb: It is better to light the candle than to curse the darkness.

Problems exist to be solved. Your vision must be powerful enough, and your focus must be just as keen. Don’t ask your team: Why shouldn’t we do this? Instead, ask your team: Tell me what you need to make this happen. If you can attain the balance, your larger group will not feel excluded. Instead, those people will feel involved. They will take up the challenge and work with you to define the solution. After all, the resulting solution will be their brainchild, too, and involvement breeds commitment. Thus do we set big, bold, challenging goals, while inspiring people and ensuring their commitment.

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