This campaign may have been an effective strategy to achieve organisational change, which was the manager’s brief. What is beyond question is that it was not especially efficient:
“Yes, it can be damaging and time consuming… I very nearly had enough of it. Just couldn’t be bothered with fighting any more. So there are times when it becomes a very negative thing. But I believe the outcome will be positive for the organization. I’ve not sat down and worked it out on paper, but there is a cost-benefit here.”
If he did sit down and work it out properly, he might come to different conclusion. I doubt whether this long campaign, with all its costs and implications, is really more beneficial than highlighting the salesman’s opposition to change, and getting the company’s leadership to tackle the issue.
I’ll concede that I have met more than one sponsor who would run a mile if asked to have the ‘difficult conversation’ with the company’s leading salesman. But in the end, this long covert campaign – even if apparently successful – must be a less satisfactory strategy than encouraging the company’s leadership to lead.
The costs of this covert approach are not all immediately apparent. One unintended casualty is organisational culture: the manager’s colleagues see a covert campaign conducted, and they see it ultimately succeed. They are likely to conclude that they should follow suit if confronted with similar challenges.
9. Change Leadership’s Challenge
Do we really want our organisations to embrace this type of covert campaigning as part of ‘the way we do things around here’?
Ironically, there are many organisations that publicly espouse openness, honesty and transparency and which have a very active shadow life, full of covert deals and political in-fighting.
As change leaders we need to ask ourselves whether we want to help perpetuate this duality. Do we want to be experts in orchestrating perception, in protecting sponsors from embarrassment, or do we aspire to something more?
My own view is that change leaders, managers and (especially) consultants have become over-focused on managing stakeholder perceptions and not focused enough on challenging the rules of the game. As Sir David Manning put it, ambassadors should strive to:
“Speak the truth to power”
Can there be a better rallying cry for change leaders?