Governmental revolution and business disruptions are so much alike. They are both a spectator’s sport. In this game, the majority (whether the people in a country or the market in a business) is known to sit and watch the factions fight without partaking much. At the end they will choose sides with the winning team. Understanding this trend is key. You don’t need the consensus of everyone to carry out a revolution. You can’t please everyone when driving change. If you want to make everyone happy then sell ice cream and not revolutionary ideas.
As a manager, a time comes when you need to move with stealth, speed and less consensus to get things done. It’s an interesting part of management and strategy. Without this, you’d fall into the trap of the Abilene Paradox. The Abilene Paradox occurs when a group of people collectively decides on a course of action that is contrary to what is best for them. The preference of the group is not always proportional to that of most of the individuals in the group. Prof Harvey states in his paper ‘The Abilene Paradox’, “Organizations frequently take actions in contradiction to what they really want to do and therefore defeat the very purpose they are trying to achieve”.
In an Ubuntu styled world as ours where people are not designed by our society to stand alone, people find it easier to join a bandwagon. Standing out as a lone voice is very embarrassing for most people. So, in a point of consensus for what’s best by majority, democracy fails. Elections and sales are very much alike. People are more likely to vote for what has been voted for; people are more likely to buy more from those people that most have bought from. As social beings, when it comes to agreements, majority in a group are known to feel like they’d be seen as stupid if they were to disagree. So its safe for them to agree.
Being on the side of the majority is often a sign that you are wrong in the long run, or the most unlikely to be right after all. At the point when Steve Jobs created the iPhone, no one in the world would by consensus voted for a phone without a QWERTY hardware keyboard attached to it like the other phones. Today’s this has become the best alternative and norm. If Harley and Davidson had sought popular opinions before putting engines in what looked like a bicycle, we would have not had a motorbike or the Harley Davidson brand today. When Henry Ford before creating automobiles asked people around what they wanted, most people said faster horses. Majority of the people really don’t choose what’s right or what’s best for them. They are known to instead choose what’s popular. In the words of Gandhi, “In matters of conscience, the law of the majority has no place’. I will extend that to history.
To create the future, you can’t do it through focus groups. Its not every time in making decisions that you have to listen to the majority of your stakeholders, majority can be wrong because of their popular dispositions in a group. It was minority of the men that ended slavery when majority thought it was okay. It was a few minorities out of the crowd in 9/11 that ran up the stairs in the Twin Towers to rescue people. It was minority who gave up their seats on the lifeboats of the Titanic. There are times when you have to step out to be that minority when majority won’t. Sometimes your today’s conviction if you stay long enough becomes tomorrow’s fact and science. Once upon a time, the consensus of scientists didn’t agree that E=mc2 or that the sun is 93 million miles away. People were killed for deputing the popular thinking that the earth is flat. Majority isn’t always right. In your organization, we can’t always say that employees or customer are always right too. Steve Jobs was one of the first businessman to say that was a waste of time. The customers today don’t always know what they want, especially if it’s something they’ve never seen, heard, or touched before. Sometimes you have to show them. Steve Jobs through this philosophy created Apple.
There are ideas that must be initiated first, and then you can carry the rest along later. Sometime to carry everyone along, there must be a need for lobbying. For managers, organizations must first identify a think tank to achieve this. You need a closer inner circle to bounce off ideas. And then from the inside out of that circle, you can reach out to the rest of the organization using lobbying and change management to seek consensus if need be. In other words, organizations need oracles. It has been proven that every generation needs their own equivalent of the Oracle of Delphi, which houses their own Socrates, Aristotle and Alexanders. I mean a sanctuary of intelligence first. And from it drive consensus and control. History is a testimony that majority of the people cannot be trusted to make the right decision on their own, especially if it’s through group think. That’s the mystery of crowd mentality. In the next few years, I predict more terrorism, more cyber crime, more tech billionaires, more LGBT+ Communities, more religious institutions, more vanity fair. I mixed the good and the bad in that prediction; you choose which one it is. The reason for my prediction is that the world has sick people whose views now count in an already hypersensitive society. And the truth is, if you leave some of those minds to roam without control, there will be trouble. This is same in offices and organization.
In management, once in a while it is required for top management to drive change. Change is constant. You either drive it or get consumed by it. When it comes to disruption, revolution and change management, identifying and understanding the stakeholders is key. Stakeholders are defined as people that either are affected or can affect the outcome of your decisions and disruption. Pay attention to the three when you engage stakeholders. This refers to their level interest, influence and importance. Generally in the corporate world, examples of key stakeholders are creditors, directors, employees, government (and its agencies), owners (shareholders), suppliers, unions, and the community from which the business draws its resources. Generally, stakeholders can show four levels of engagements. They can either be resistant, neutral, supportive or leading. Your approach can determine their level. Also, not all stakeholders have similar level of importance/power, influence or interest. In other words, not all that is counted really counts. There is a stakeholder’s matrix and grid that gives us a good way to categorize stakeholders in the project management of change, revolution or disruption. Generally in terms of power and interest of stakeholders when driving change, we have the following groups
- High Powered and Highly Interested People
- High Powered, but Lowly Interested People
- Low Powered and Highly Interested People
- Low Power and Lowly Interested People
Being able to identify where each stakeholder belongs is key to achieving your desired result. For the high powered and very interested people: they are influential and have interest in the decision. You should fully engage with these people and make a strong effort to satisfy them
For the high-powered but less interested people, keep these people satisfied, but not to the extent that they become bored with your messages. Information immunity and communication fatigue is real. And it’s the major cause of personal brand devaluation.
For the low powered, but interested people: keep these people adequately informed, talk to them from time to time to ensure that there no major issues cropping up. These people can often be very helpful, especially with the details of your intervention
And as regards the low power, less interested people: keep once in a while contact with these people, but do not bore them with excessive communication.
According to Ken Blanchard, there are four methods that can be employed in engaging stakeholders as a leader. They are as follows:
- Directing/autocratic leadership is aimed at the least mature or low mentality employee or members whereby the leader uses only directive words and no supportive behaviors to motivate the subjects. This is very valid in a primitive demography.
- Coaching whereby leader-supervisors use both high directive and high supportive words and behaviors in their interaction with employees. Here you seek their opinions more often.
- Supporting whereby leader-supervisors refrain from directive behaviors and concentrate on supportive behavior only. These employees work well on their own, but lack self-confidence or may be overwhelmed with a new task.
- Delegating whereby leader-supervisors no longer need to offer directives or supportive words and behaviors. These employees have matured to the place where they are competent and confident in the task and do not need anyone to look over their shoulders.
In the words of Mark Twain, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to reform (or pause and reflect).” I look forward to working with you on your next revolutionary or disruptive project.
Strategy. Business Startup and Corporate Restructuring Consulting
Uwaoma Eizu is the lead strategist at Hexavia! He is a graduate of Mathematics with two MBAs and over a decade of experience working with startups and big businesses. He is an entrepreneur and sits on a lot of boards too. His core is in building startups and in corporate restructuring. He is also a certified member of the Nigerian Institute of Management, Institute of Strategic Management of Nigeria and the Project Management Institute, USA. By the side, By the side, he writes weekly for the Business Day newspaper.