Best Practice
May 7, 2012

Keeping allies and influencing adversaries

Get Them On Your Side

Samuel Bacharach

Platinum Press, 234 pages, $26.95

 

Keep Them On Your Side

Samuel Bacharach

Platinum Press, 234 pages, $26.95

 

True leaders are proactive. They get things done. They accomplish that by getting a critical mass of people and/or groups on their side and they sustain the momentum they initially generate by keeping people on their side.

A few years ago, Cornell University Professor Samuel Bacharach tackled those twin managerial challenges in sequential books, one titled Get Them On Your Side and the other Keep Them On Your Side.

He opened the first book by noting that good ideas aren’t enough to be successful. To get those ideas adopted, and implemented, you need political competence.

But the word “political” in organizations, of course, is tainted. We associate it with obsequious, ambitious souls who are more interested in buttering up colleagues to boost their personal fortunes than getting things done. We don’t like them and, by extension, try to avoid being seen as political ourselves.

Bacharach believes that’s limiting your chances of success. You must be political. “In order to get results you have to identify allies and resistors, you have to get buy in, you have to build coalitions, and you have to lead politically,” he writes.

Political competence, he explains, is the ability to understand what you can and cannot control, and when to take action. It involves anticipating who is going to resist your agenda, and determining who you need on your side to push your agenda forward.

It’s not insidious; it’s practical, a critical core competency that all leaders need. “Being political, in its most attractive light, is being aware of the interests of others, finding areas of common ground, bringing others on board, and leading them in the pursuit of a goal,” he notes.

When pushing an idea forward, he urges you to plan ahead, carefully considering the agendas of the people you will have to deal with. He breaks those into four types, at a deeper level than the idea you are proposing; instead, he sensitizes you to the fundamentals of how such people instinctively respond to ideas for change. Specifically, he focuses on whether they prefer to tinker or overhaul when seeking change, and whether they prefer a planned or an improvisational approach.

  • Traditionalists prefer to tinker but want to do so in a planned, rational way. They are leery of change but will accept it when the purpose of the change is to integrate the past successes of the organization into the current reality.
  • Adjusters also prefer modest tinkering but like to do so in an improvisational way. They assume change is inevitable but unpredictable, and so react when necessary. Timing is therefore critical to get them on your side; you have to figure out when to pursue the change – when it will seem right to them.
  • Developers prefer planned change – but also love major overhauls. They relish a rational, scientific systematic approach such as the Six Sigma quality method.
  • Revolutionaries want to fundamentally transform the mission and the processes of the organization but, unlike the Developers, don’t engage in a planned approach. They are nimble and reactive.

With that schema in mind, you need to determine where your agenda falls. Then you need to list all the key stakeholders and identify the agenda of each. Now you must analyze the list, identifying those who are like you, those who are in opposite quadrants, and those who share either similar goals or similar implementation strategies, who could be potential supporters. By goals, it’s important to reiterate he is not referring to the specific idea you are championing, but whether your goal involves tinkering or overhauling; for the best approach, the question is whether it is planned or improvisational.

The easiest to deal with, of course, are allies, who share your goal and the approach by which you want to implement change. Then you must consider the potential allies. They are sitting on your side of the fence, sharing similar goals, but your management approach is different. You want them to jump off that fence into your yard. Potential resistors are also on the fence, but with their legs dangling on the other side; they share your management approach, but differ on goals. “You want to neutralize their influence or you want them to move closer to your side of the fence,” Bacharach advises.

Finally, resistors. They disagree with you on goals and their management approach is the opposite of yours. Like the potential resistors, you want to at the minimum neutralize them and, if you can, persuade them to spend more time closer to your fence, even if on the other side. By understanding through his framework the deeper sentiments that underlie their reaction to your specific proposal, you may get a better clue at how to bring them onside.

He stresses that change is a multi-stage effort, and you must form coalitions at each stage. The first phase is preparing for change, followed by initiating change. Next comes putting change in place and, finally, stabilizing change. That change cycle can take months or years, depending on the situation. “If you can keep your sense of where your effort stands, you’ll be much better prepared for ensuring its success – and yours,” he writes.

Assuming you are successful in getting people on your side, you must now keep them on your side. Here we move from political competence to managerial competence. “The basic challenge to your managerial competence is your capacity to manage for momentum – that is, your capacity to keep your projects, your initiative, and your people moving ahead in spite of emerging obstacles and uncertainties,” he says.

Bacharach delineates four types of momentum:

  • Structural momentum: Keeping things moving requires giving people resources and making clear who does what. “If people don’t have the right resources, if they aren’t sure what they are and are not responsible for, if they don’t know how much autonomy they have in their job, they will constantly be bottlenecked and slowed down,” he warns.
  • Performance momentum: You need to ensure that evaluations are conducted, progress is measured, and feedback is given so that you can make the requisite adjustments to keep moving in the intended direction. He finds this is where momentum is lost, as leaders walk away from the challenge because it is both uncomfortable and difficult to monitor people and projects. But you can’t sit back and just hope the initial momentum will carry the day. “Even with talented people who do not need much direction, you will still need to monitor their performance and provide them with feedback on how they are doing,” he says.
  • Cultural momentum: You need to keep people socially and psychologically motivated, sustained, and directed. The right, cohesive culture – a can-do culture, for example, or a stay-on-top-of-things culture – and peer pressure can help to sustain projects to completion.
  • Political momentum: Conflicts must be dealt with and opposition either challenged or incorporated. “Leaders capable of sustaining political momentum understand exactly whom they should mobilize and whom they should exclude. They know exactly how much room to give people to criticize and discuss, but they never give them enough leeway to revolt,” he says.

Each dimension is critical to your success. Sometimes you have to place your attention on just one dimension. Sometimes you have to work on all of them, seeking the appropriate ba

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