By Meredith Courtney, Director of Marketing

A few years back, right when the economy started on its downward spiral, I worked with a non-profit organization that had to make a big change happen. The change involved shaking up the status quo at public agencies and eliminating long-standing processes. For anyone involved with the public sector, you know “public sector” and “change” can be like oil and water. Throw in a “great recession” and budget cuts, and it was a recipe for disaster.

Our team’s goal was to get key players on board and win buy-in. During our kickoff meeting, we announced our initiative to a room of 50. We were complete strangers, swooping in to convince them that the old way was wrong, and ours was right. Many people in the room were competitors – and our platform was the need for them to work together and share information. Information that was critical to their bottom line goals and funding. Talk about making an interesting first impression.


You could feel the tension in the air. The general consensus was “this will never work,” “this is a waste of time,” “I’m not sharing anything,” and similar sentiments that often come along with resistance to change. Over the next few months, in meeting after meeting, we were met with speculative faces and strong objections to the concept. And many of the objections had merit.

Right when I started to lose all hope, a funny thing happened - I noticed that when our team walked into a meeting – we were met with a few smiles. Slowly but surely, week after week, the smiles got bigger. Despite the competitive nature, people started to share knowledge with one another. Dare I say, some of them actually became friendly with one another, and with us. Over time, people truly began to collaborate.

One year after that initial meeting, there was a complete 180 in the way many of these key players operated. The result was true change, and a better system for all stakeholders involved.

Many of our clients here at Bates are facing similar barriers to change. IT shakeups, reorgs, and strategy changes are met with resistance and fear. Leaders are met with blank stares and glares. It's easy to lose confidence in projects.

Thinking back on this project, I believe there were three key elements to its eventual success, despite all of the obstacles.

- Leaders who believe in the success of the change initiative, and communicate with conviction.  No matter how many times people expressed negativity towards the project, our leader never faltered. He communicated time and time again that he truly believed the change we were trying to implement was possible. He addressed concerns openly and honestly. More so than that, he spoke with such conviction that people truly trusted him and his outlook.

- The old “what’s in it for me?” From the beginning, our leaders were clear and upfront with the key players about what the change meant for them. They clearly articulated what the benefit was to everyone involved – in how the changes would make their lives easier, and how a successful implementation would have an impact on their success.

- How to Take Part in the Change.  Our team gave the key players clear guidelines on how they could get involved, if they wanted to. We asked people to take on roles in contributing knowledge, leading teams, and executing many of the goals. Their participation drove their desire for the project to succeed, regardless of any original doubts. The ones who participated ended up being the project's biggest champions.

As companies rebound from the past few years of instability, it’s clear that the only constant these days is change. No matter your industry or situation - clear, consistent communication with key stakeholders will ensure you win buy-in and implement successful change.

For tips on change management and leading in the age of change, check out Suzanne Bates' video series on the topic:

Add a Comment: