When you can't seem to convince your board that they need to take action.

How to Convince Your Colleagues that the Future Requires Their Action

change mindset Jul 07, 2023
The road ahead may be uncertain, but with thoughtful guidance, you can help your colleagues to look for clues and anticipate the future, even when they can't be convinced of its urgency.

The Challenge: They Won't Listen!

Imagine you're in a car traveling down a highway at high speed. You can see the roadblock after the bend, but when you try to convince the driver to hit the brakes or swerve, they don't listen. The driver is convinced she is a perfect driver, and besides, she's busy driving all day, every day. This is the predicament many top-level executives find themselves in when they try to convince their colleagues or boards to adapt to the rapidly changing future landscape.
As an executive, you're often tasked with navigating your organization - the vehicle - through the unpredictable twists and turns of the highway. Roadblocks come in many forms - disruptive technologies, shifting market dynamics, evolving customer expectations; you name it. Yet, despite your best efforts, convincing your colleagues and boards to take action can feel like trying to stop a speeding train. It's not just about overcoming resistance to change. It's also about combating complacency, inertia, and the "this is how we've always done things" mindset.

The Human Nature of Resistance

Here's the hard truth: convincing others to take action often doesn't work because people naturally resist change. Especially when they're busy and when they're successful. Persuasion alone is not enough. Instead, you must inspire and empower your colleagues and bosses to take ownership of the future. To do this, you must help them see the roadblocks for themselves and understand the consequences of crashing into them.

Why You Shouldn't Want to Convince Them

Convincing others of the future you see ahead can be counterproductive. The future, by its very nature, is uncertain and unpredictable. When leaders insist on a particular future vision, it may create unease and resistance in peers who may feel their perspectives and concerns are not acknowledged. Moreover, our vision may overlook or misinterpret emerging disruptions. Both resistance and error are valid reasons to skip convincing and look for other ways to advance the organization.

What You Can Do Instead

Firstly, encourage open dialogue and foster a culture of curiosity. Make your office and meeting room a safe space where people can voice their concerns, ask questions, and challenge the status quo. Turn some of your meetings into a Pixar meeting. Pixar Animation Studios holds regular "Braintrust" meetings where everyone is encouraged to give candid feedback on ongoing projects regardless of rank.
Secondly, leverage data and storytelling. People resonate with stories more than facts and figures alone. Use real-world examples of companies that have successfully navigated change or suffered due to inaction. Kodak's story may seem old, but we face the same uncertainties today. And Apple's rise, demise, and struggle back is a cautionary tale that underscores the importance of futures thinking.

You Can Do It: Example Behavior and Exposure

Thirdly, focus on capacity building. Equip your colleagues with the skills and knowledge they need to navigate the future. This could be through formal training programs, workshops, or -much more discrete - exposure to new experiences and perspectives. For example, DBS Bank in Singapore initiated a company-wide "Digital Mindset" program that included experiential learning journeys, hackathons, and innovation lab visits to instill a digital-first mindset among its employees. You can do this on a small scale by sharing cool news regularly, asking reflective questions, and steering team discussions to include the long-term view. For example, ask how a decision would play out over the next year or five years.
Lastly, lead by example. Show your commitment to the future through your actions. Embrace change, explain and take calculated risks, and celebrate successes and failures as learning opportunities. When Satya Nadella took over as CEO of Microsoft, he didn't just talk about the need for a culture shift; he demonstrated it through his actions, such as championing a growth mindset and encouraging experimentation.

Build Your Approach

In short, convincing your colleagues or boards is not as straightforward as having a good talk. It requires patience, persistence, and a multi-faceted approach. But by fostering open dialogue, leveraging data and storytelling, focusing on capacity building, and leading by example, you can inspire and empower those around you to take ownership of the future. And who knows? They might even thank you for helping them see the roadblock around the corner!

But What About Now?

So what if they must open their eyes right now because the future challenge you see is already urgent? Well, that differs per organization and depends on the organizational culture. In some organizations, finding like-minded people to campaign with works best. In others, the best way might be to go for a good talk behind closed doors. Or to ask an influential outsider to give an opinion. To find the way(s) that are best for your organization, think back to times when you all worked together for change. Analyze those situations to find your best way today.

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