Home Management During Change Ignore Your Corporate Atheists

During Change Ignore Your Corporate Atheists

by Guest Writter
Hamish Knox, Sandler Training

When you announce a change in your organization your people will split into three groups – angels, agnostics, and atheists. Those labels have nothing to do with religion.

Your angels are change champions. They’re the ones who say, “sounds great, boss. How can we help?”

Your agnostics are fence sitters. They aren’t opposed to the change you just announced or change in general, but they want to see how your initial implementation goes before they fully buy-in. Many agnostics are veterans who’ve been through too many “flavor of the month” changes so their reaction to your change announcement is “here we go again.”

Your atheists are change deniers. They are stuck in a nice warm comfort zone and typically believe that “change is bad,” which means even if your change would be beneficial to them, your atheists will lump it in with “all change,” which is bad.

In our experience at Sandler, working with organizations of all sizes in over 32 countries angels, agnostics, and atheists tend to split along the lines of 20 / 60 / 20. That is, 20 percent of your organization will be angels, 60 percent will be agnostics, and 20 percent will be atheists.

The caveat to those splits is if your change would be perceived as universally beneficial by your people (e.g. adding casual dress Fridays or organization wide profit sharing) you will have more angels or if your change would be perceived as universally detrimental by your people (e.g. downsizing or your organization being acquired) you will have more atheists.

Traditional change management advice is for leaders to spend their only valuable, their time, coaching and cajoling their atheists to buy-in. They won’t. What atheists will do is play psychological games with you and their peers to get their emotional needs met by impeding the progress of your change.

Instead of wasting your time with your atheists invest your time with your angels. Reward them for their immediate support of your change by giving them extra benefits and responsibility, which we call “situational delegation,” and encouraging them to become peer coaches to your agnostics. Some of your team will need a peer to deliver your message to believe it so take advantage of your early adopters to do that for you.

As part of your pre-announcement planning place each member of your team into one of the angel, agnostic, or atheist category then create a plan for replacing your atheists.

After your atheists reveal themselves help them understand that your change will happen, make it clear to them the behaviors that would indicate support for your change, and define a time frame for them to demonstrate their support. Leave off the “or else” part of that conversation as your atheists will fill that in for themselves and will likely “self-select” before your time frame ends. With a plan in place for replacing the atheists you will have more confidence in that conversation.

You may feel like you have to address your atheists because, like a child acting out to get attention, they are saying and doing things that are disruptive to your change. Instead give your attention to your team members who support your change and let your atheists go be successful elsewhere.

[Image courtesy: Pixabay]

About the Author

Hamish Knox is author of CHANGE THE SANDLER WAY:  Understanding The Human Dynamics That Cause New Initiatives To Succeed.  He currently heads a Sandler Training Center in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

For more information, visit www.sandler.com/resources/sandler-books/change.

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