Ignite Change: How to Obtain Cooperation to Accelerate Action

Dec 18, 2014
5 Min Read

If you want to be a change agent and pave a path in a new direction, you must come to understand the mindset of your leaders, colleagues, cross-functional partners, and surrounding teams.

Cooperation is a requirement for creating and sustaining change. You need to build a coalition because it takes more than one fired-up individual to effectively create and sustain change. Whether you have support or opposition depends on the beliefs, the motivation, and the habitual behaviors of those around you.

To determine the best way to obtain cooperation, first assess the level of agreement:

  • Agreement on END STATE. Is there a shared vision? Do people generally agree on what they want? What results do you seek, what values are supported, what is the biggest priority, and are we all willing to support the same tradeoff to make it happen? Sometimes the theme of the company culture, the mission, or the vision of the organization creates a strong pull.
  • Agreement on PROCESS. Does everyone have the same mental model? Is there a shared understanding that if we do X, then Y will occur? Is there agreement on which actions will lead to the desired outcome?

Agreement on End State, Agreement on Process

Interestingly when there is full agreement—both on end state and process—change is most difficult. It is by definition a status quo environment. When all individuals are in agreement on the process to execute the vision, they carry it out day after day. You have full cooperation… as long as you are going in the same direction. Though it may be tempting to not rock the boat, change in this case comes in incremental process improvement, storytelling to demonstrate a unique perspective, and hard numbers to convince people to change their viewpoint.

Agreement on End State, Disagreement on Process

Perhaps the most common scenario that creates a roadblock to change is when all stakeholders want the same thing, but they disagree on how it will be achieved. This is where classic, charismatic leadership works well. Articulating a clear vision of the future keeps people’s focus at the high-level and inspires them to just get started. It creates trust and comfort in risk-taking, often leading to persistent problem-solving, and resulting in unexpected innovation.

Disagreement on End State, Agreement on Process

In some cases, employees or teams have differing motives, in which case a unifying vision is either unrealistic or unproductive. Each is motivated by something unique so they have differing—and at times—competing, agendas. In this case, it is better to take the focus off of the end state and put it on the process. Many times you will find that a common process will take each party 80% of the way there to their respective destination. Gain momentum and keep it going by staying at the task-level; document standard operating procedures, provide training, set up short-range metrics, and focus on coordination of effort.

Disagreement on End State, Disagreement on Process

As a last resort, when there is little agreement on the destination or course of action, positional power or formal authority may be needed to spur action. When disparate groups cannot agree on what they want or who should do what, a leader with appropriate authority must take decisive action.

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