Bradt: New on the Job? How to Manage Your Supporters and Detractors

As you move into a new role, it is inevitable that you will have some people who support what you’re trying to do, some who resist it and some who will sit on the sidelines and watch for a while. We identify these three types of influencers as contributors, detractors, and watchers.

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Contributors: These are the people who share your vision and have been working for change. Often they are new to the company or role so they see that there’s more to gain by going forward with the new leaders than by holding on to the past.

Detractors: These are the people who are comfortable with the status quo, fear looking incompetent, perceive a threat to their values/power, fear negative consequences for their key allies and have been in the position for a long time so they have more to lose in giving up the current state than they have to gain in supporting a risky change.

Watchers: These are the people that are on the fence, generally the silent majority. Note that people with high levels of institutional, personal or resource-based power have a bias to resist change because they have more to lose than to gain. It’s not always the case, but it is true in enough situations for you to be particularly careful in dealing with these people.

Move every influencer one step in the right direction

Don’t try to turn detractors into contributors in one fell swoop. In general, start by turning your contributors into team leaders, then move the convincible watchers into contributors, and get the detractors out of the way.

Actively change the Balance of Consequences

Make it less risky and more rewarding to follow you, while at the same time more risky and less rewarding to resist your vision.

  • Increase positive consequences of good behaviors.
  • Increase negative consequences of bad behaviors.
  • Decrease negative consequences of good behaviors.
  • Decrease positive consequences of bad behaviors.

Here are three ways to grease the wheels to get the team moving in the right direction:

  1. Change the balance of incentives including recognition and rewards to support the desired culture in light of the context.
  2. Change the organization and/or resource allocation to support the desired culture in light of the context.
  3. Make sure that everyone understands the changed balance of consequences.

For example, one leader handled someone resisting change by moving them from leading a big team to working as a solo practitioner. If the person continued to resist change, their impact was minimized. Over time, the person chose to go along with the change but had they not made that choice, they could have been moved off the team completely with only minor disruption.

Drive your message

Drive your leadership message by setting up action-forcing events (milestones, regular meetings/updates, etc.) Additionally, leverage small commitments into larger ones, most likely starting with contributors who step up and then expanding to convincible watchers.

Many leaders simply hope that people will eventually move in the right direction (i.e., contributors into team leaders, the watchers into contributors, and the detractors out of the way). Hope will not get the job done. Actively manage the people and the steps.

George Bradt is managing director of executive onboarding and transition acceleration group PrimeGenesis, and co-author of “The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan” (third edition to be released in Fall, 2011), from which portions of this article were extracted. Follow him at @georgebradt.