Can’t Get People to Change? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I am a senior leader in a mid-sized organization. I introduced a new strategic approach to the organization about six months ago. In some parts of the organization, things are going well. In other areas, however, people are just not catching on. Specifically, four departments are still doing things the old way and acting as if nothing has changed. I am sick of people “yessing” me and then ignoring the new procedures.

What to do? I feel like a …

Broken Record


Dear Broken Record,

There are a minimum of 200 excellent books on managing change—and there is a reason for that. Change is the boogie monster of all leaders because people resist change. What most leaders forget is that they spent between six and twelve months thinking about the change before it was announced to the people. They are bored with all the conversation about change and are ready to move on long before anyone else is. So yes, you probably sound like a broken record to yourself, but I guarantee you will be playing your song a lot longer than you ever thought you would. But you can vary it.

Change happens one person at a time. Each person goes through predictable and sequential concerns about change. These concerns, if not surfaced and addressed, can present formidable roadblocks to the successful implementation of change. You can identify where each person is in their change process and meet them where they are. It sounds like several of your key folks are still in the first couple of stages, so you must breathe deeply and be patient.

The Stages of Concern are:

Information Concerns. People want specifics about the change process. They want to have the chance to ask questions about the gap between what is and what could be. They want honest and direct answers. Key questions at this stage include:

  • What is the change?
  • Why is it needed?
  • What’s wrong with the way things are now?
  • How much and how fast does the organization need to change?

A good assumption at this stage is that people are smart, and if they had access to the same information their leaders had they would come to the same conclusions. Leaders need to be careful at this stage to provide information about the change process rather than try to sell it, and to talk in terms of what the change is and what it could mean to the organization.

Personal Concerns. This stage of concern is often ignored, which is the primary reason so many change initiatives fail. I mean, really, every human being wants to know how things are going to affect them. Our first question is always What about me? It is simply human nature. At this stage, people want to know either how the change initiative will benefit them or what they will lose. Specifically, people want to know:

  • How will the change affect me personally?
  • What’s in it for me?
  • Will I win or lose?

Implementation Concerns. At this stage, leaders need to specifically spell out a detailed change plan about how and when the change will be launched, what resources are available, who will test the change, and how the change will be measured and supported. Questions include:

  • How will I find time to implement this change?
  • Will I need to learn new skills or do I have the necessary skills now?
  • Where do I get help?
  • How long will this take?
  • Is what we are experiencing typical?
  • How will the organization’s structure and systems change?

Remember, the change leadership team needs to include informal leaders and advocates for the change who can help craft a realistic and credible project plan.

Impact Concerns. Now the change is underway and people are interested in learning whether the change is starting to pay off. People focus on issues such as:

  • Is the change making a difference?
  • Is the effort worth it?
  • Are we making progress?

If leaders have done a good job addressing the first three stages of concern, this is the point in the process where people will begin to sell themselves on the benefits of the change. By successfully addressing the initial stages of concern, leaders will find that their employees are more open to the change at this point, willing to advocate it, and ready to evaluate the change on its merits. It is at this stage that an organization will also want to give focus to building change leaders for the future.

Refinement Concerns focus on continual improvements. At this last stage, the change is well on its way and employees are now focused on new ways to innovate. People may wonder if alternative approaches would work better. They may want to play a role in helping to modify the approach to the change process to leverage lessons of the past. The leader’s role is to encourage this refinement, support further innovation, and invite others to challenge the status quo. At this stage, leaders might ask:

  • What ideas do you have for further improvement?
  • What might work better?

Most leaders think so much about the change before announcing it that, after the launch, they are immediately ready to have in-depth conversations about refinement—but everyone else is at square one. The status quo is what people know. They have figured out how to be successful in it. The status quo will eat your good strategy change ideas for lunch unless you walk people through their concerns step by step.

Are you bored yet? You probably are. Get the help of someone who is extremely disciplined with process and put them in charge of being the broken record, with constant communication targeted toward alleviating people’s main concerns. People are yessing you because you either stopped listening to them or never listened to them in the first place. You need to listen and listen and listen. Meet people where they are and show them you care about their concerns.

Take a deep breath, Broken Record, and slow way down, listen, and then listen some more. People will come around just in time for you to launch your next big change, and you can start all over again!

And just so you know: as a leader, if you don’t sound like a broken record, you are probably doing it wrong.

Love, Madeleine

About the author

Madeleine Blanchard Headshot 10-21-17

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

Leave a Reply