Commitment Planning: Rallying Support for Your Change 

Stakeholder analysis and management is one of the more challenging aspects of change management. It includes identifying the various parties that could help or hamper your change efforts and crafting a plan to rally support.

What it is and Why it Matters

A commitment plan is a powerful tool that builds upon the initial stakeholder analysis in an effort to identify the sources and causes of resistance as well as supporters to call upon to foster adoption. A commitment plan, if executed properly, will reduce the negative impacts of resistance, increase the retention rate of key employees, and ensure there is a critical mass of commitment at each level in the organization.

Balancing Business and Personal Outlooks

There is a big difference between intellectual and emotional understanding of change. Members of various stakeholder groups may grasp and even agree with your business case for change e.g. obtaining cost savings via shifting work to low cost countries or driving consistency by centralizing processes under a single tool or data platform. However, that does not mean they will support it from a personal perspective.

This process is akin to capturing the hearts and minds of those impacted.  Success is dependent on several factor such as the pacing/timing of the change (you need to give people appropriate time for their heart to catch up with their mind), leaders need to tap the appropriate “power bases” (position power by eliminating blockers, creating consequences), and being active role models for change.

Change leaders need to look beyond the bottom line business mechanics and review the “personal wins / losses” brought on by the change if they hope to rally support. Integral to this is the usage of commitment and communication strategies that cultivate an awareness of the actual effects of the change program to reduce risk and garner support.

Steps for Success

To ensure you develop a meaningful, robust commitment plan that supports your change effort, complete the following:

  1. Segment Stakeholders: Ensure you have accurately classified key people into the appropriate groupings (Champions, Resisters, Fence-sitters, and Opinion shapers) based on your data collection.
  2. Assess Stakeholders: Assign each individual/group a high, medium or low rating based on their ability to influence others and the degree of impact the proposed change will have on them from both a work and personal perspective. You may need to complete additional interviews, focus groups, pulse surveys to validate your assessments.
  3. Add Depth to the Analysis: Identify the specific concerns of each stakeholder group, note their questions and assess their initial level of commitment. Identify blockers and obtain consensus on how you will address each issue (coach, reassign, provide incentives, etc.)
  4. Plan Actions: Identify actions to equitably address key stakeholder concerns. Ensure that these actions include a start and end date, have an accountable party and note any resources required to ensure completion.

Periodically “sense” the environment

Make sure you allocate time to periodically collect data on how the change is progressing.  This can be collected via observation, focus groups, interviews, and a pulse survey.

Ask questions around how people perceive the change, what is working/not working, what questions would they like answered, what suggestions do they have to enhance the change solution or improve the change process.

Integrate these learning’s into your risk management plan, communication plan, and change work plans to make change stick”.

Avoid Becoming Overwhelmed

Given the scope of many change initiatives it may be difficult, if not impossible, to create detailed commitment plan for all parties. Remember the secret sauce is based on how you segment your stakeholders.  If you aggregate at too high a level (all employees in the Hartford office, all officer level employees)  your commitment plan will be too broad to get traction.  If you segment at too low a level, you will create “war and peace” and not be able to implement actions for all of your key stakeholder groups.  When time is tight, focus your efforts on the following:

  1. Opinion Shapers: These folks are better known as the informal group leaders and are a force multiplier. If you get 10 of these folks to strongly support the change they will get 200 more on board.  Connecting with and securing the support of these individuals should be a top priority. Not only can they help convert the fence sitters to your cause, they can also lessen the impact of those who seek to derail your efforts.
  2. Fence Sitters: The age old debate is where do I allocate my resources? Do you focus your efforts on convincing folks on the bubble or resistors?  The answer is both.  Our experience suggests that in most instances you will get better results trying to engage the fence sitters than the resisters. 
  3. Resisters: Passive aggressive behavior and overt counter measures can derail even the best change programs. Actively seek to understand the point of view of those who stand against your ideas. While you may not convert them, establishing an open dialogue could move them to a less hostile position. It can also alert you to some legitimate potential pitfalls you may not have considered.
  4. Champions: Finally, do not make the mistake of taking your supporters for granted. Even those who seek to gain from the change need to be courted and reassured that they are not backing a doomed endeavor.  Make sure you have champions at each level of the organization that is impacted by the change.

Commitment Isn’t One Way 

It’s no secret that change, even positively perceived change, is difficult for people to handle. As project managers, we must endeavor to understand and help stakeholders navigate the often-dicey waters of change. We should be particularly mindful of those who offer legitimate concerns or view themselves as negatively impacted by the initiative. We do this to both minimize resistance and enhance our implementation efforts.

That said, we must never lose sight of the underlying business decision for the change and the anticipated ROI it will bring. Ideally, leaders should help all employees accept and support the change. Of course, 100% agreement is rarely possible. To be effective, leaders must recognize staunch resistance and have the courage of conviction to take appropriate actions up to and including removal of derailers.