Not everyone can formulate what Steve Jobs characterizes as "insanely great" ideas but most people can generate good ideas, those worthy of careful consideration. For various reasons, many (most?) of these ideas are rejected...especially if they seem to threaten what James O'Toole characterizes as "the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom." John Kotter and Lorne Whitehead offer a method in this book by which to "save" a good idea from "getting shot down" and the method proposed is itself a good idea in that it is sensible, practical, and one almost anyone can follow. However, as presumably Kotter and Whitehead agree, it is first necessary to develop a mindset that embraces these principles:
o Those who oppose an idea should have the opportunity to explain their objections.
o Their participation in the discussion should be welcomed, and treated with respect.
o Before responding to an objection, reassure them that you understand it. Then offer a response that is direct, relevant, crystal clear, and sensible.
o Over time, win opponents' minds with logic and evidence and their hearts with respect.
o Maintain frequent and cordial contact with opponents whom you respect; meanwhile, keep an eye on the few attackers who are potentially disruptive.
Note: Those you respect probably view them the same way you do. Retain an "open door" policy but keep in mind the African aphorism: "trust but verify." Also, that reasonable people can agree to disagree without being disagreeable.
Kotter and Whitehead organize their material within two parts. "The Centerville Story" is a business narrative during which a "brave few" defend an idea in a crowd of 75, in a room for several hours.
Note: Kotter co-authored an earlier book, Our Iceberg Is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions, with Peter Mueller in which eight principles of decision-making under duress are effectively dramatized, in this I stance by penguins in a specific setting.
There is also a specific setting in the first part of Buy-In but Kotter and Whitehead acknowledge, "we have found that the attacks shown in the story can be seen anywhere: with back-and-forth emails across continents; then people at lunch or in a classroom; a paper sent to a thousand employees; a series of two or twenty-two meetings; or dueling memos." They are remarkably effective raconteurs.
In the second part of this book, "The Method," Kotter and Whitehead become analytical, "showing explicitly what was happening in the story," They identify four common attack strategies (i.e. fear mongering, delay, confusion, and ridicule of character assassination) and explain their method for avoiding or overcoming the strategies. They also identify and discuss 24 "questions and concerns" that most frequently come into play when ideas or proposals come under attack.
Note: Obviously, a proponent will not encounter all 24 at the same time but, that said, it is highly-desirable to be prepared for all of them in the absence of knowing which will be introduced.
Kotter and Whitehead escort their reader through each of the 24, subdivided within three sections:
1. "We don't need your idea, because the `problem' it `solves' doesn't exist."
2. "Okay, a problem exists, but your solution isn't a good one."
3. "Okay, a problem exists and your solution is a good one, but it will never work here!"
The reader is provided with a recommended response to each of the 25 "attacks" (i.e. objections). For example, in response to #11, "Surely you don't think a few simple tricks will solve everything?" they suggest "No, it's the combination of your good work and some new things that, together, can make a great advance." Note the subtle but clever tone of the response, one that any proponent should sustain in all interactions with opponents.
Although Kotter and Whitehead seem to have covered rather thoroughly the "what" of buy-in, their greatest achievement consists of the nature and extent of how brilliantly they explain the "how." In the Appendix, they review "The Eight Steps to Successful, Large-Scale Change" (Pages 182-184) and I presume to suggest that this material not be read until after re-reading (at least once, preferably twice) what John Kotter and Lorne Whitehead have to say about The Method and the "Twenty-Four Attacks and the Twenty-Four Responses." Most change initiatives fail and the reasons vary. However, none can succeed without (a) wide and deep buy-in among those in the given enterprise and (b) a shared sense of urgency to achieve the given changes.
Where to begin? Read and then re-read this book and the aforementioned A Sense of Urgency. If not now, when? Meanwhile, tick tock, tick tock, tick tock....
on 10 December 2010
John P. Kotter and Lorne A. Whitehead excel in the field of consulting and strategy for leadership and change. In this bantering, conversational guide, they convincingly demonstrate how to present any new idea, how to prepare for likely attacks on that idea and how to guide the concept to triumph despite the attacks. In the first half of the book, the authors illustrate these principles with their fictional narrative, "Saving the Day in Centerville," in which two protagonists present a proposal to equip the town's library with computers. The story introduces a range of attacker personalities, from "Pompus Meani" to "Bendi Windi," and the four attack strategies, "confusion, delay, ridicule and fear mongering." Throughout this tale and in the analysis that follows, the gist of the authors' strategies emerges with clarity. The lessons read quickly, and while the first half of the book seems nowhere near as necessary as the second, getAbstract recommends this guide to anyone who has to persuade anybody, anywhere, in order to get anything done. And that's everyone, isn't it?