Duress vs Success in Engaging People to Achieve Strategic Change

Duress Text
Jim Hauden

Over the last twenty years, my organization has had numerous opportunities to watch and participate in change efforts that have engaged the hearts and minds of people to deliver great results.

We have also experienced the opposite – working on change efforts where people hold back, and hold up the important movements responsible for changing behaviors and driving business results.

After experiencing some of the best and worst examples of mobilizing people’s discretionary effort to lead change, build teams and make change personal, we synthesized our collective experiences down to a simple, reoccurring observation:

People don’t resist change. They resist being told to change or being changed by someone else. 

The reality is that by engaging a person’s brain, we can unlock their belief that they matter, that their thinking can make a difference, and that they are vital to solving the strategic puzzles our organizations face.

We often see two vastly different approaches companies take to execute change through their people. One seems to be used by those who achieve success. The other leads to putting people under duress – leaving leaders with little understanding about how to make their people the engine to moving forward.

The graphic below shows the difference in these two approaches. People at all levels respond best to the sequence labeled “in success” and rarely bring the best version of themselves to the approach labeled “in duress”.





In Duress





Here’s why: The big difference is in what you tell versus what you ask!

The best way to engage people in a change effort is to give them an understanding of the WHY, then the WHAT, a road map to WHEN, and leave the HOW up to those closest to the work that needs to be done.

By engaging a person’s brain, we can unlock their belief that they matter, that their thinking can make a difference, and that they are vital to solving the strategic puzzles our organizations face.

On the other hand, if you ask someone when their manager offends them most, the answer will likely be in the HOW stage. Most efforts to engage people to change that end up being unsuccessful tend to skip the WHY, the most critical piece of the puzzle.

They wrongly begin with telling them HOW to do what needs doing, and WHEN it must be done. Maybe, eventually, they get around to the WHAT, but not in all cases.

When you follow the SUCCESS approach – explaining the WHY, the WHAT, the plans for WHEN, and ask them the HOW, the results are consistently predictable: most people are going to be all in, their hearts and minds coming along on this change journey with you.

Is your change process going to see success or create duress? Tell us what you’re doing to engage your people’s hearts and minds in a change!

Jim Haudan is the CEO and Chairman of Root, Inc. For more than 20 years, Jim has helped organizations unleash hidden potential by fully engaging their people to deliver on the strategies of the business. Jim believes business results are achieved by meaningfully connecting strategy to all of the people in the company to bring it to life. For eight straight years Root has been on the Great Place to Work® Institute’s 25 Best Small and Medium Workplaces, and among the 2009 Top Small Workplaces according to the Wall Street Journal and Winning Workplaces Inc. Root’s clients include some of the biggest names in business, such as Gap Inc., Petco, Dow Chemical, Pepsi, FirstEnergy, Taco Bell, and Hilton Hotels – more than 500 companies and tens of millions of people. Jim is a frequent speaker on leadership alignment, strategy execution, employee engagement, business transformation, change management, and accelerated learning. He has spoken at TEDx BGSU, the Conference Board events and numerous client meetings. He also contributes regularly to business publications and blogs and has written a national best-selling book, The Art of Engagement: Bridging the Gap Between People and Possibilities (McGraw-Hill, 2008).

  • Jim, few things delight me more than learning the secrets to engagement and success practiced by someone who starts right at home with his own staff. Bravo for making Root not just a purveyor of excellence with your clients, but a home for excellence as well.

    I love your take on SUCCESS, especially asking your people HOW. A theme we hear again and again here at Switch and Shift is, trust the people closest to the customer, closest to the actual essential work of your organization, to have the best answers in how to get that work done. After all, we’re in a knowledge economy. We pay dearly for knowledge workers. Why wouldn’t we unleash their genius, rather than treat them like raw recruits?

  • optioneerJM

    Powerful perspective and food for thought

  • Pioneer Outfitters

    Thank you for this post, Sir. VERY insightful.

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