The business history books are filled with stories of companies failing big time because they either didn’t believe in the threats right in front of them (think Kodak) or because they were too busy doing business as usual to see the markets changing. Or worse, they failed to react to the disruption in front of them due to internal turf wars (think Nokia)

Seen from the outside, these reasons are difficult to understand and some even appear to be close to crazy or irresponsible, but it’s important trying to understand what causes this apparent resistance to change. Because that’s what I believe is the root cause of all the above; the humans’ natural and in-built reluctance to adjust to any – even minor – changes to their everyday lives and environments

Reluctance to change is a force that must be reckoned with as I believe this is one of the strongest forces in any organization today. In almost every organization I’ve seen and been, people form internal networks with likeminded colleagues and together create very strong and influential informal groups and start enjoying the informal power the groups is capable of exerting

Informal power is key

And since most of us are driven by a desire of being influential and having power, people in the informal strong networks don’t want to change as they’d be worried about their future power. And this is the brutal reality anyone who wants to change any organization must face and deal with. Take it or leave it. This can be very exhausting, especially for those whose beliefs about managing a corporation is more naïve in the sense they are convinced that logical and data-driven decisions are the primary way forward

What to do, then? You must realize and accept what you’re facing. It makes no sense trying to avoid this. If you do, you’ll find yourself the one being reluctant to change :) You must change to deal with the informal groups; they will for sure not. I don’t have the silver bullet for how to deal with the informal power groups, unfortunately, as they all comes in different shapes, sizes and forms

My aim with this article is to open your eyes for reasons why it can be very difficult for changes to happen even though all the rational and objective arguments are in place, and to draw your attention to the formal and informal groups that forms the real management of a larger organization. You must prepare yourself for unearthing these networks and work with them to understand how they can be influenced so they don’t perceive your suggestions for change as a threat to their positions

This takes a lot of tactical and political skills and you’ll find that in many cases, logical arguments just won’t work for you. Working with the informal networks is a game of power and if you’re able to decipher what drives the individuals and the groups, you’re on your way to get your changes through. It’s hard work and can be very frustrating

You probably have a very sound and clear case for the needed changes and it will be very difficult for you to understand and even accept that few seem to support the clear-cut business case – or acknowledge the imminent signals of market changes right in front of you. It may seem crazy or even surreal that you will have to find ways around to make the things happen that are right for the company

Draw a stakeholder map and find your allies

A way of making your way forward easier is to draw an internal and informal stakeholder map – you can try to put down the informal groups in the company on a piece of paper and characterize the individuals, the groups and the influence they exert, both in terms of strengths and main areas in the organization (operations, PR, sales, IT, etc.). Use the map to draw references between the individuals and try to understand their mutual relationships (how long they’ve know each other, interest shared, key people in their networks etc.)

Find your allies, too. You will for sure have supporters for your cause (otherwise I don’t think you’d be in the company after all) so spend time with them and understand their views of the organization and the informal networks. There will for sure be areas where you’re able to help each other out and you simply need support to ‘survive’ a change process in any larger organization

It’s hard work. And much harder than you will expect, so you’ll need to make sure that you believe your case / cause is worth fighting for. You have to believe that what you’re doing truly has a purpose for the organization and that the organization, not the groups, in the end will benefit significantly. But, and this is important for your own well-being, after all the fights, you still feel you’re getting nowhere, I strongly suggest that you change your work. You must be strong enough to identify a lost cause and move on

 

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