We’d all like to think that our attempts to improve the workplace will be enthusiastically welcomed and embraced by our teams.

In reality, though, when launching any new change initiative, you’ll encounter three types of people:

  • Champions. They’re inspired by the possibilities of change. In fact, they may already have tons of ideas on what and how things need to change, and will find ways to help it along.
  • Cynics. They actively oppose change and believe the organization or its leaders can’t change. This is often because they’ve been hurt before—someone tried to change the organization and failed, or the change stopped short of what was needed, making everything worse. Watch out: someone who seems open to change, but argues passionately that a proposed change just isn’t going won’t work, should still be considered a cynic.
  • Fence-sitters. They aren’t sure the organization will change—but they aren’t sure it won’t, either. Therefore, they’ll “sit it out” and wait for a sign of which way the wind is blowing before they lift a finger to help. This is most of the population.

Once you’ve identified who falls into which camps, you should adopt a different approach to win each over to your cause.

Get champions involved. Delegate projects and decision-making to them for areas they care about. Empower them to assemble others to help. Support their ideas—and if you can’t support all of their ideas, at least be careful not to rain on their parade. Instead, show appreciation for their enthusiasm, and be explicit about the reasoning for why that particular change won’t work.

Engage with cynics. Cynics’ negativity can be annoying, and it’s tempting to spend a lot of time and energy trying to persuade them to get with the program. Don’t. It’s actually more effective to draw them out, then hear them out. Cynics are just disappointed idealists, and unlike fence-sitters, they are highly engaged. If you can deliver something that matters to a cynic, they often become some of your best champions.

Leave the fence-sitters to others. Get some small wins on the board, and then let the champions and converted cynics take care of the fence-sitters. Once people see that things are moving forward and that others are on board, they will hop on the bandwagon too.

As tempting as it may be to write off the cynics or the fence-sitters, remember that all three types are likely to believe that their way of dealing with change is the only smart, tactical way. And in fact, all three are responding sensibly to some aspect of the organizational environment in the messy process of change. Instead of trying to show them why they are wrong, focus on making changes visible. If circumstances change, minds will change, too.

So how can you start to engage with your champions and cynics, and get some quick wins on the board?

1 - Figure out what people want.

Encourage people to speak about what a win for them personally—not just the business—would look like. This could be a pain point, or a life-enhancer. If they’re cynics, ask them to make a ridiculous request—often, these can be turned into something quite reasonable.

2 - Form teams to get people involved in designing the change.

Put a champion in charge of the initiative, and have the teams test small, doable changes, rather than a perfect plan that pleases all possible stakeholders.

3 - Set a deadline for testing.

Keep teams focused on getting an idea done (not perfected) by setting a deadline and holding highly structured meetings to keep discussions on track.

4 - Evaluate ideas with an open mind.

When evaluating your team’s ideas, keep an open mind. If you scuttle their ideas at an early stage, you will train them not to try to change, and it will be twice as hard to get your team to trust your intent next time.

5 - Test it out.

Apply the MVP to your business, but make it “safe to fail.” When developing solutions, find parts of the business that are relatively contained. That way, even if the experiment completely fails, the business will not be irreparably harmed.

6 - Iterate.

Hold a retro with the team to figure out how to improve the MVP, and continue iterating until the results are good enough to share with the team at large.

7 - Publicize.

Make sure that everyone tells the story about how change happened, and what the results were. A word to the wise: when publicizing your wins, make sure they are real wins and not just slogans. Nothing is more dispiriting than seeing posters hang around claiming “excellence” or “We’re the best” when you can’t get the simplest things right.

This is a guest post by NOBL Collective, as previously published in their newsletter.

NOBL's Kim Perkins will be hosting a workshop "A Survival Guide for Change" at Innov8rs Miami, 20-21 Feb 2019. Kim has identified the most common ways change gets bogged down—everything from sabotage to "change for change's sake"—and in this workshop, you'll work through the simple fixes you can make to get things back on track.