Playing The Percentages


(By Deborah Parenti) Renowned management and leadership expert John Maxwell (named number one in the world by Inc. Magazine in May 2014) recently wrote a blog citing what he called the “25-50-25 Principle of Change.” It’s a premise he became familiar with while attending a leadership roundtable earlier this year.

And it boils down to this. When leaders strive to drive vision and change within their organization, they should expect to face three sets of attitudes. Twenty-five percent will be on board from the start. Fifty percent will be noncommittal. And then there’s the other 25 percent. Those are the ones who will resist and put up roadblocks. They will seek holes in every argument, find fault with every aspect, and essentially do their best to program whatever is being proposed to fail.

One of the biggest problems with all this is that some in that 25 percent — in some instances a good number of them — will be top performers. Obviously, you can’t just throw them out the door, but it’s important to know the “what and why” behind their dismal attitude. Some of the negativity could be attributed to any number of reasons, depending on specific circumstances, but some of the mindset at the root of their dissidence could be categorized as follows.

With any change or new idea comes an inherent risk, at least in their minds, to the success they have been enjoying with the status quo. They have it down to a formula. They don’t want that messed with, much less to watch someone else who has bought into the plan advance beyond them.

It wasn’t their idea — and it wasn’t on their radar. Unless they can tweak it to their way of thinking, they want nothing to do with it. And sometimes, that’s just not possible.

Deep down inside, they really aren’t team players. They may be important to the team, but they play to win, only for themselves. They are seldom if ever willing to see the other side of the coin. Most of us have faced the challenge of dealing with these types of individuals. And we’ve probably all tried any number of approaches aimed at winning them over when the truth is, it’s time to face facts: it’s a waste of effort. Odds are you won’t succeed in changing these minds. The more you try to win them over, the more they dig in their heels. As Maxwell notes, “Don’t give that bottom 25 percent a platform or credibility. Doing so doesn’t give you credibility as much as it gives them the opportunity to undermine you.”

Your energy is better spent on finding ways to engage those who are already on board. These are people who can also, by example, encourage that 50 percent sitting on the fence to get on board, too. Giving them a platform for sharing their enthusiasm, why they believe in the vision, and how they plan to execute it is not only encouraging to those who are true team players, but can fire up the majority.

This can’t be about you, your ego, or winning a battle with those who would doom you to failure. It’s about what is good for the organization and how to get it to the next level, and what will benefit your company, your staff, and your stakeholders and investors. As the leader, that’s your responsibility, and another reason that playing to win means playing to the team that supports scoring the win. Don’t be drawn in by naysayers. They will suck the oxygen out of the room if their negative energy is allowed to flourish by giving it attention.

Over the years, I have worked with employees and co-workers who fall into all three categories. One guy from the “glass half empty” 25-percenters was suspected to have gone so far as to remove a plaque that had been hung in a hallway to commemorate the establishment of our new facility and the integration of the six stations that were part of it.

But someone from the other side of the equation chose to celebrate the grand opening that had accompanied that new facility by annually replaying a video of the event.

Guess who the 50 percent aligned with when the announcement was made that the “movie” was about to begin? OK, the popcorn probably helped, but a great attitude can overcome a thousand dour faces every time.

Deborah Parenti is Publisher of Radio Ink. She can be reached at [email protected]


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