Change initiatives usually cross organizational boundaries. For your change initiatives to be successful, you must become aware of the boundaries your project must cross. Without the support of key constituents throughout the organization success is merely a dream. To obtain and maintain this elusive support, coalition building is a critical skill set change leaders must develop. Our surveys of change leaders rank coalition building very high among all of the change leader skill sets discussed in these articles. Interestingly, the more experienced the change leader, the higher they rank coalition building and the lower they rank their perceived skill indicating the need for improvement in this area. Experience talks.
It is unlikely that too much time can be budgeted for the important act of coalition building and representing the views of all constituents on the change project management team. Coalition building is done at breakfast meetings, in the hallways, and as meeting attendees are gathering their papers. The change leader can expect to spend at least half their time on this task.
The job of the change leader is to anticipate the actions and reactions of important constituents, possibly influencing these actions and reactions. Open and frank communication, both formal and informal, facilitates coalition building. Change project leaders do have control of the information communicated concerning the change project to these constituents. Clear, concise, communication in terms that are relative to the audience serves as the best way to build effective coalitions that can pay large dividends at critical points in the project.
As with the general population, it is dangerous to stereotype change constituents. Individuals change their viewpoints as new information is obtained and evaluated. Keeping ahead of this curve is the challenge.
Consideration of the following keys to building coalitions will contribute to the success of your change effort.
Recruit stakeholders. Who can influence others? Identify these individuals and recruit them to your team. It may be possible to involve a key constituent as a functioning member of your change leadership team. As an insider they will be able to ‘live’ the reasons and benefits for the change. Also, as with the choice of a vice-presidential running mate in politics, executive sponsors should be selected with some consideration to their effectiveness in forging coalitions to bring the project home successfully.
Involve stakeholders. Get important stakeholders involved in problem solving, monitoring progress, and sharing knowledge regarding the change initiative. By providing something tangible for stakeholders to do, ownership is more likely.
Solicit customer input. Since most of the company is involved with and measures their compensation based on the customer, consideration of customer needs and how they could be positively effected by the change initiative can go a long way to obtaining support from internal constituents.
Spend time with stakeholders. There is no substitute for quality time with important stakeholders. Remember, time spent ensuring stakeholders are comfortable with your ability to lead the change, as well as time to humanize the change effort is time well spent. I frequently like to find a way to travel with a key stakeholder. This uninterrupted, informal time is like gold.
Showcase successful pilots. Managed well, a successful pilot of the change in one area can be used to sell the approach in other geographical, functional or processing areas.
Clarify authority. We are trying to change behavior. Without clear lines of authority and decision making, participants may interpret time spent with them on the change effort as informational only, leading to little or no action. Ask for decisions and commitments to be made.
Don’t surprise stakeholders. A primary goal for the change leader should be – no surprises for the important stakeholders. This may mean individual sessions with all attendees prior to the scheduled group meeting. No one said this was going to be easy!
The coalitions built can make or break a change effort. Include coalition building activities in your work and staffing plans to ensure your change effort reaches the desired outcome.