Change is hard. Literature on change reports that over 70% of projects fail due to the inability of people and organizations to change. Change is even harder when it is transformational in nature and requires a change in culture and DNA. Our experience with organizational transformations in the area of innovation reveals that organizational skeptics typically are the ones resisting change the most and spreading their views on the rest of the organization. It is common to hear comments like these:
“This will never work. We have tried it before and failed.”
“We have never been successful at this in the past”
“We are already very innovative. There is no need to change.”
“We do not have an innovation problem”.
“Our culture is different. We do things differently around here.”
Every organization faces skeptical people. There are generally several reasons that explain a chronic skepticism in people:
1) Skepticism born from fear and uncertainty: breakdowns in rationality and limitations of the human mind to grasp and handle uncertainty can manifest themselves by strong resistance to change. This is what famous behavioral scientist Herbert Simon called the limitations of the “rational man”.
2) Skepticism as a result of organizational change fatigue: Change is either constant or punctuated in nature. Either way, it is hard and can drain organizational resources. The concept of fatigue is critical to pay attention to in order to change at the right pace so that the organizational actors can absorb change. It is all about making it stick!
3) Skepticism as a result of stress and multi-tasking: There is so much multi-tasting that organizational actors can do. The emergence of multiple projects and initiatives create skepticism and reactions such as “here is the project du jour”. Multi-tasking contributes to the lack of focus and can create a perception that not much is getting accomplished.
4) Skepticism as a result of accumulated expertise: Some people like to play devils advocates and challenge common wisdom. Some do this because of the tremendous amount of expertise accumulated over years of work. They perceive their expertise as a pass to become bottlenecks, challenge everything, and volunteer insights.
5) Skepticism as a mindset: Some people are born skeptics. They see the glass half-empty and there might be very little you can do to change that!
You might think that organizational skeptics should be better off outside the organization. We conjecture that having a few skeptics in the organization is a good way to keep the pulse on the organization, to get different views on transformational projects and also to provide a voice that is generally not heard very often. These people can bring rich and valuable insights on the innovation processes and initiatives that are about to be deployed by injecting a sense of realism, common sense and pragmatism.
So, if you are embarking on an innovation cultural transformation, leverage your skeptics as follow:
1) Identify progressive and positive skeptics inside your organization. Start establishing a relationship with them and engage them in regular conversations.
2) Listen to them carefully as they might become the pulse of the organization with regards to your innovation strategies or your change initiatives. Do this early on during the discovery and design phase.
3) Sort through what is skepticism versus relevant devil’s advocate views. It important to get to know them and to be able to differentiate between whining and useful feedback!
4) Invest time to bring them along and get their buy-in with proposed changes and innovation initiatives.
5) Coach them to leverage their participation in bringing the rest of the organization along. Once they are on board and the organization sees that while knowing their level of chronic skepticism, you might accelerate overall buy-in.
Organizational transformations require the skills and expertise of the best in your organization. Organizational skeptics can also play a critical role in innovation transformations.
image credit: maslansky.com
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Stephan Liozu, PhD is the Founder of Value Innoruption Advisors and specializes in disruptive approaches in innovation and value management. He holds a PhD in Management at Case Western Reserve University and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org