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David Chislett

The Writing Word

Change Pilot

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Harvey Nichols: Five ways to influence change-resistant leaders

Cultivating a positive perception around change is key to achieving buy-in from leadership.
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The Guardian recently reported on the departure of Harvey Nichols’ CEO Manju Malhorta, allegedly over disagreements about the pace of change.

Harvey Nichols, like many fashion retailers, has suffered recently due to changes in the marketplace brought on by online shopping, the Covid pandemic and staffing.

It was a big step by Malhorta, and if she was hoping to call the owners’ bluff, she failed. But what DO you do if your leadership is change resistant and you are convinced you have the answers?

Is doubling down the right approach?

If you had asked Einstein, he might likely have simply responded that doing more of the same and expecting a different result is insane. But doubling down on current strategy and approach is a common reaction to change in business.

You probably need to be more political in your responses, so here are some solid actions that you can take to try and influence your leadership to act on your advice and implement change.

The histories of businesses are often more entrepreneurial, even disruptive, than their current behaviour. That’s just part of what happens during the growth from startup to established venture

1. Dive into the history

Often ‘the way we’ve always done it,’ is nothing more than the groove we now have.

The histories of businesses are often more entrepreneurial, even disruptive, than their current behaviour. That’s just part of what happens during the growth from startup to established venture … call on the legacy of the founding fathers.

In the case of Harvey Nichols, when Benjamin Nichol died, the company passed to his wife Anne, who immediately joined forces with her son-in law, James Nichols, and changed the company name to Harvey Nichols … a pretty big change in branding and ownership!

2. Find outliers

The problem with proposed change is often the lack of case studies, examples and other ‘evidence’ that the idea will work.

When leadership is risk averse, they are going to want to be persuaded.

Don’t let the fact that your competition isn’t even daring to do what you propose stop you.

Somewhere out there will be a company successfully doing something like what you are proposing, possibly in a different industry.

Do some research and find that example and shine a light on them. Establish what they are doing so well and what can be learned from them.

Remember that the whole concept of Agile moved into mainstream business from software development. Cross industry fertilisation is a thing and can provide those much needed examples to persuade.

Do some research and find that example and shine a light on them. Establish what they are doing so well and what can be learned from them

3. Project the best worst case scenario of not changing

When we are attached to a set way of doing things, we assume we’ll always get what we have gotten up until now.

If you conduct projections that include the changing variables putting pressure on your business, you can demonstrate a diminishing set of returns.

Take any set of declining statistics from the past two years and establish the percentage of decline, project that into a five, 10 and 15 year future. Do this for all declines … and then project additional variables that do not yet impact the business.

The future will look bleak. And that is the point.

4. Project the best worst case scenario of your proposed change

Now, factor in your proposed changes and re-do the projections and present the contrast to your leadership. Both are scenarios.

One is based on known factors that have been extrapolated. The other is theoretical, but uses the same methodology.

This simple comparison really takes ideas out of the realm of the imagination and puts them in black and white.

Sometimes we just need to SEE lines on a graph to get the concrete idea of change into our head and this comparison process does that very well.

When we are attached to a set way of doing things, we assume we’ll always get what we have gotten up until now

5. Re-frame the change

Change is creativity made concrete. And, according to Mel Rhodes, all creativity includes four pillars: Product, people, process and press (environment).

Leaders get worried about change when it has any chance of disrupting the product. So use this framework to identify your change clearly AND the areas that it will impact.

First, think about everything that can be changed in the process, with your people and the working environment to IMPROVE the product and describe your change like that.

No-one has big issues with improvements. But we often get stuck over change.

The old saying of, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, is deeply entrenched in business psychology.

Change can often be seen to be being done for change’s sake. But when it is obvious that what is being changed improves the core product of the business, it is far easier to adopt.

By mining the history of your organisation, trawling for current examples, doing simple projections and re-framing the changes you are proposing, you will find it far easier to influence leadership into sharing your point of view

The takeaway

Like many things in life, it is the story that we tell about change that often dictates whether it lands well or badly.

By mining the history of your organisation, trawling for current examples, doing simple projections and re-framing the changes you are proposing, you will find it far easier to influence leadership into sharing your point of view.

Apart from creating a better story, by following these tips, you are also doing a large amount of due diligence on your proposal and you will end up improving and fine tuning it at the same time. A win-win outcome.

Change is inevitable. Whether it is positive or not depends entirely on the perspective that you cultivate.

Leaders will always be more open to ideas and proposals that are aimed at creating positive change. So do your homework, and influence those at the top of the pile.

If you enjoyed this, read: Transformational leadership: how HR can strategise, innovate and execute the future of work

 

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David Chislett

Change Pilot

Read more from David Chislett
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