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Identifying naysayers

change management leadership

Identifying naysayers and common programme blockers

Identifying the people who do not agree with your programme and understanding their reason for not agreeing with your programme is a critical step in any change programme development.

Here we’ll look at two distinct types of naysayers and recognising common points of view in disagreement.


Different types of naysayers

Recognise that there are different types of people who may not or will not agree with the programme you are leading or implementing, and they may be overt or covert. For the purposes of this, let’s call them naysayers.

Overt naysayers will be instantly recognisable as they will publicly or privately let you know that they disagree with your programme, direction, or course of action.

Covert naysayers can be more difficult to identify or engage with. There may be people who agree with your programme publicly but delay input or progress, brief against you, brief against your programme, gaslight you, brief their teams to not progress or more actively undermine your programme.

Working in central UK Government we had a mandate from the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair to tear down 95% of government digital estate and build one lighter supersite in one tone of voice and put all government transactions online, Directgov, the precursor to The Prime Minister publicly gave a mandate letting the worlds press know. Internally in Government, there were specific teams in specific departments who initially decided the mandate did not apply to them, and that their work was an exception. Fortunately, they were overt naysayers which enabled us to identify and start to address their concerns.

Identifying covert naysayers, understanding the reasons for non-acceptance of the programme, and tackling those individual concerns, reasons and attitudes is critical to smooth delivery.


Identify the specific naysayers

In many projects and programmes is not always easy to identify specific individuals who may be blocking progress or not aligned to the programme of change you are leading or trying to implement.

You may have acceptance of your programme from the highest degree level of authority, and publicly all the key stakeholders of your programme may I agree. However, you may find, that certain individuals are blocking progress. It may not even be obvious who they are to start with, as they may agree publicly, but privately may go back to their teams and disagree with the overall direction, stall, or not participate and not communicate.

In some cases, naysayers maybe completely overt and let you know and everyone else in the programme know that they don’t agree with the programme or don’t agree with specifics of the programme.

Identifying the naysayers is the first step to be able to understand their points of view and address their concerns.

Whilst overt naysayers will identify themselves, it may be more difficult to identify covert naysayers. Understanding and recognising why people may not identify with your change programme can be key to having early discussions with individuals you may suspect are not on board with your programme.


Recognise common points of view

There can be many reasons individuals for not agree with your programme, here are the most common:

Change to the status quo: If people are happy in their roles, or even coasting in their role but are happy coasting, if they are doing what they or the organisation perceives as a good job currently, any change will disrupt what they are used to, it may make people uncomfortable.

Fear of the unknown: Change programmes bring uncertainty in an organisation, uncertainty over job security, uncertainty in working practices. People may resist over perceived negative consequences.

Loss of control or power: Change can disrupt existing power structure and lines of authority in an organisation. Individuals who have authority, influential positions in the business or a perceived sense of control may resist change due to perceived or actual threat to their identity, authority, status, or decision-making.

Personal or Professional agenda: People may decide that the change programme affects them personally and/or professionally in terms of benefits, location, job security, changes to work responsibilities or perception about the change not aligning to their long term career goals.

Scepticism about the benefits: People may not understand or be sceptical about the benefits, particularly if they perceive the change as unnecessary or fail to see its value.

Change fatigue: Has your business gone through change programmes more recently and if so, were they successful? Previous experience may colour your people’s view of your change programme.

Lack of Trust with Senior Management: If your people perceive that the reason for the change programme is thinly disguised as cost cutting or reducing number of jobs or do not have faith in the senior management to execute the programme effectively, they may respond negatively to the programme.

Disagreement with the strategy: If fundamentally individuals do not agree with the programme, what the change is setting out to deliver, or the strategic approach they may adopt a negative position. Getting to the route of their disagreement is critical as many individuals may state that they disagree with the strategy as its easier to admit to than any of the reasons above.

In future posts I will look at how can you start to address these common points of view.