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May 2, 2012 / mike54martin

Don’t Let the Background Noise Drown Out the Applause

A manager friend of mine wants to make some changes in her section but she has opposition. A small but vocal group of dissenters are holding her back. What she doesn’t realize fully is that she has a lot more resources to pull her change forward. This situation is the most common and certainly most frustrating reason why many positive changes don’t get done. And it’s more than a shame, it’s preventable.

Going back to my friend she has about forty employees in her section and of these seven or eight staff are the holdouts. She has tried everything to bring them along from bribery to coercion, from flattery to threats. She has tried to bring them “into the circle” and done everything but make them home-made cookies, which she would do if she thought it would work, and nothing budges them from their oppositional point of view.

At the point of giving up she finally took some sage advice (not just from me) and decided to move ahead with her changes. She had the support of her superiors and the power to make it happen so she set a date and went about implementing the change. So what happened? Things went great, the positive changes infused the workplace with new and creative energy and both profit and productivity rose.

Once she made the decision to move forward then the majority of the staff who were with her jumped in and made it a success.

And the naysayers? Well, two of them are still there. They are still unhappy but are not blocking the flow of changes. They have become isolated and apart from the main group and my manager friend thinks they will leave soon. The others have either quit or been let go already. They maintained their opposition to the change process and paid the price. It’s too bad but life does go on.

My friend has once again learned one of the most important lessons in change management. You don’t need everybody rowing all the same way at the same time to make effective change happen; you just need a critical mass and some momentum. The manager provided the momentum by making her decision and the rest of the staff just rowed along to her direction.

So the lesson for today is: Don’t let the background noise drown out the applause.

This post first appeared on my blog at

Mike Martin is a freelance writer and workplace wellness consultant.

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