Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"I Am Spartacus!"

The movie Spartacus has a famous scene when the Roman general asks which person is Spartacus, the leader of a revolt. Promising leniency to the rest, the general wants to know who Spartacus is. If Spartacus doesn't reveal himself, all of the rag-tag mob will be executed. The real Spartacus admits his identity. However, the other slaves who were part of the revolution, start crying out, "I am Spartacus!" They will continue to follow their leader even in defeat to the death.

In the midst of pushing forward new movements in our organization, we believe the resistance to change is being conducted by an army of Spartacuses. We start saying, "They want..." or "They won't..." or "They did..." We look at the employees as a group thinking they are all alike.

Here's where most change efforts fail. Professional organizational change experts admit that 65-85% of change efforts fail for various reasons. Many of the times, it's because we treat the group as if it was one individual. We think of the 50, 100, 200 or 2,000 employees as having a single personality, single behavioral style and single motivational desire.

That singularity is most often a projection of our own personality, behavioral style and motivational desire. We insist that they are not "getting it" for the reason that we wouldn't get a change someone else was foisting on us. We will try again and again to communicate the message that change is necessary. However, we'll present the message with the words that we want to hear and in the way we want to hear or read it.

We cannot move a group through the stages of resistance, acceptance and adoption of the change until we start treating them like individuals.

The first rule of communication is to know your audience and speak to your audience. However, the audience is not homogeneous. The individuals in the group have different needs, such as the need to be secure, safe and steady while others have the need to be correct and have a high level of conscientiousness. For those individuals, change is a threat because it indicates that where we're going is unknown and unsafe. It also says that what we're doing now is somehow wrong. For others, there's a need to meet a challenge and create reward and recognition. Behind their desires and needs are fears that their needs won't be met.

It's difficult to craft one message that will appeal to all. Therefore, it will take a lot of communication to move a group.  And I haven't dealt with the different motivational desires like utilitarian, theoretical, social, aesthetic, traditional and individualistic. Nor have I dealt with learning styles.

The next time you think the group is resisting, remember they're not all "Spartacus". They are not a person. They are different people with differing needs.

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