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What can you do when an opinion leader is negative about the organization and any changes?
Ineffective or negative leaders have detrimental business effects, but most organizations don’t see it or don’t know what to do about it. If your most “in the know” opinion leader isn’t on board with an upcoming change (or any changes), it poses a risk to swaying the opinion of others to more negativity.
There are a couple things to think about. An opinion leader (or leaders) is important to your work ecosystem. They bring value to the work environment beyond the work that they do. Some opinion leaders are forces of positivity; others always seem to know the good gossip. Some may be well-respected for their skills, while others are just fun to be around because they bring the best snacks and stories.
Perform a health check of your change leader coalition, including the executive sponsor, business leaders, and opinion leaders. This check is two-dimensional. Are they supportive, neutral, or against this specific change? How influential are they? When you target intervention with individuals who are against or neutral and who are influential, that intervention often needs to be done one-on-one.
Here are three ideas on where to get started when opinion leaders are less than positive:
1. Ask Questions
Ask questions to understand opinion leaders’ thoughts about the change and why they are on the fence or opposed to the change. They may just need to feel heard. Worst case scenario, you spend an hour and learn more about the individual. Best case scenario? You get great insight and ideas on the change in front of you.
2. Focus on the What
Help leaders focus on the what and not the how. Often individuals who are negative about a change are wired to think through all the what-ifs. Help them refocus on what the change is and the anticipated value and benefit on the other side.
3. Involve Them
Involve them in the project and give them responsibility. For example, get them involved in review or testing activities. Inquire where they can best plug in to help with the project. This helps to drive their personal commitment and isn’t a mandate but a partnership.
If the individual is negative about the organization, not just the change, it may be a sign that a harder conversation needs to occur. Understanding where someone is coming from and setting expectations to mitigate negativity is a reasonable request, especially for individuals in formal and informal roles of influence.
Barbari Griesse is a vice president of Avaap’s change management practice and a Prosci® Certified Advanced Instructor. She is an experienced leader and expert in organizational change management, organizational effectiveness, executive leadership, and organization development. Connect with Barbari to learn how you can build your team’s resilience to change.
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