Reaching the Tough Crowd During Change



By A. J. Holley

Director of Change Management and Learning

Kentucky, USA


The tough crowd—you know them. They’re almost everywhere we turn—at home, school, work, sporting events, or even volunteer groups. In change initiatives, it’s even tougher to influence these individuals to be part of a solution. We usually choose avoidance—declaring ‘That’s just Joe being Joe,’ allowing them to pitch tantrums or demonstrate passive aggressiveness, while bringing others down along the way.

If confronted, some in this camp feel they are falling on their swords of loyalty to the tried-and-true ways of the past, or that everyone else is drinking the corporate Kool-Aid. Have you ever stopped to think of the costs incurred when a major project is stalled due to behavior of internal critics, those feeling victimized by change, or others politically motivated to somehow sabotage progress?

While interpersonal communication is an age-old challenge, adequately planning how to communicate change is still underestimated as an effective tactic. Simple, persuasive messages can be delivered for a small investment, even without a well-staffed communications team. As a comparison, consider the costs of endless meetings debating on whether or not the project status is yellow or red. While this is going on, your tough crowd—and your entire audience—is creating their own truths which may manifest into impenetrable walls of defensiveness.

Consider two of the usual suspects and tactics to chip away at those walls.

  1. The Critic. Proceed with caution.

We may wonder how these folks got hired, but only the most scrutinizing of interviewers can reveal certain undesirable traits. Critics have a ‘no’ or ‘it won’t work’ for just about everything, but depending on their expertise and status, they can still be leveraged in a productive way. For example, let them lead a piece of the change that’s important to them. If this seems manipulative, it is. But when orchestrated the right way and for the right reasons, it can work wonders. When other team members see critics playing a role that supports change, it can gain hefty momentum in the new direction.

But, remember to exercise caution! The critic may sense this maneuver and become defensive. Be prepared to have a direct conversation stating their influence or negative effect on others, and that they are expected to behave in a way that supports the strategic decision, whether or not they accept a leading role. If they still push back, one of the most powerful lines delivered to an audience full of employed critics was “…You know what? We’re going to pay you to try.”


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About the Author

pmwj33-Apr2015-Holley-PHOTOA. J. Holley

Director of Change Management and Learning

Kentucky, USA


A. J. Holley
joined Changepoint to lead the development of a new Organizational Change Management solution to help customers manage the human element of change–a core challenge to any project or business transformation. Holley has over 15 years of experience leading organizational development and change management initiatives, and shares best practices and valuable strategies for project managers to apply to make communication a more calculated and strategic tool for project management success across a business.​

Visit Changepoint at http://www.changepoint.com/