Political Intelligence and Change


Managing politics intelligently can have a positive impact on the success of any change you are leading and build up the necessary support and commitment.

Why is political intelligence important during change?

Politics are most apparent when change is mooted and when is there not change these days? Managers need high level political skills to deal competently with open and covert opposition to change. This might take the form of people agreeing to change in word but not in action, forming cliques or 'going slow'.

Wise handling of friends and enemies can lead to a more shared understanding of the need for change, acknowledgement of the difficulties of change and better handling of winners and losers. It should enable a more mature understanding of the impact of change and potentially greater commitment to the outcomes.

We define political intelligence as the ability to manage proactively -

• Reactions to change
• Levers of power and influence

Typical reactions during change

In order to recognize why politics occur particularly during change, it is helpful to understand typical reactions to change, such as denial, ignoring the change, self-doubt and later as the reality of change becoming apparent a willingness to consider experimenting with change. During change the emotional climate can be both volatile and fast-moving, especially in the early stages. Later on during changes, some groups will start to benefit from change and some will perceive they are losing out. They may well take action to preserve that power or enhance it and politics becomes rife.

Consider your own reactions to change in the past. These may be a helpful insight into the future reactions of others. A manager with political intelligence will take account of the stance stakeholders may take during change. He or she needs to keep asking who are the winners and losers? If there will be resistance, what form will it take? Who are supporters and how can they be encouraged?

Preparing politically

In any transition, change impacts people. These people who have a 'stake' and are affected by change, influence to a great extent the effective implementation of the change. Think externally also - customers need to be on your side, too. It is important to be aware of the reactions to underlying driving forces and the restraining forces within your organization and your industry generally, such as the impact of changes in legislation, movements in competition and industry structure and shifting customer needs

Taking account of the stance stakeholders may take during change; consider the following questions to help you identify possible approaches to some intended change you wish to make:

• What happened during the last change?
•  How ready are people for change? 
• What do they know about any proposed changes?

Understanding individuals

In order to gauge the political influence that individuals have during change, the politically intelligent change navigator can observe distinct types of behaviour:

CHANGE CHAMPIONS have a positive attitude to change and are action orientated. Viewing change as both challenge and opportunity, change champions tend to feel comfortable with the need for change

TERRORISTS respond to change by arguing against changes.  Rebellious, they are determined to block change they do not own

YES MEN deal with change by passively agreeing with everything, though not being proactive, they let things ride, acknowledging good ideas but are reluctant to change themselves

VICTIMS take on board change by feeling hard done by and complaining.

It pays to have worked-out distinct strategies for dealing with Change Terrorists, Victims and Yes Men. However, your biggest assets are Change Champions. Do not forget to encourage and stretch them.

What do these descriptions tell you about yourself during change? How can you put this knowledge to good use? Consider people on your team and their reactions to change. What does this mean for maximising your team?

As well as recognising likely stances and reactions to change, in order to influence change effectively the political change navigator needs to also recognise and appreciate the sources of their own and others' power, since the extent of  power bases has a considerable influence. An organization we know had difficulty in implementing a culture change programme, despite unanimous board approval. It turned out that a clique on the board were apparently agreeing to support change, but were quietly undermining it at grassroots level. As a useful exercise, consider someone whom you need to influence to change, what will be their likely stance, how can you enhance their motivations?

Political strategies during change

Further political strategies you can use to influence others during change include:
• Physical changes e.g. location, can have strong and visible    impact
• Symbolic changes such as change of title or logo can drive home the importance of change
• Internal change agents, who are respected and know the ropes, can flexibly implement because of their know-how
• External consultants can sometimes be used as an influence tactic, unrestrained by history and culture
• Role models can be selected and promoted to communicate best practice

Political Intelligence Checklist

As a reminder, use this checklist to manage your next change with political acumen
• Consider the key stakeholders and what their reactions to the change may be
• Allow for resistance to change
• Consider how employees are responding
• Reward and recognise those who lead the change
• Introduce physical changes e.g. location
• Make symbolic changes which support your change

About the authors

Sarah Cook and Steve Macaulay specialise in the development of managers and organisations to achieve change. They are the authors of the book -'Change Management Excellence, published by Kogan Page price £16.99. They can be contacted through Sarah Cook at the Stairway Consultancy on 01628 526535

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