Why You Must Build Support Before You Need It

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

by Rick Maurer


Have you tried to introduce a major new change in your organization, one that you knew was critically important, only to be met with blank stares or worse? People looked at you like you had come up with an idea whose time definitely had not come. Let’s assume for a minute that your idea actually was a good one, then why would people oppose you?  They might resist because they believe the change will harm them. Or maybe they don’t see the need for a change. If that’s the case, the problem is easily resolved if you start early. Organizations that handle change with relative ease have learned to begin to get people thinking and talking about trends, challenges, opportunities, and threats well before a new initiative is even on the drawing board.

Hospitals are similar to many businesses in that they are going through lots of change – and much of it is ugly. Administrators and medical practitioners often don’t see eye-to-eye. And yet, we visited one hospital that handled major change with relative ease. In fact, when the CEO said that they needed to change clinical pathways (which is like saying that you need to change one of the most important core parts of your business), staff and doctors accepted the idea quickly. Some even said, “It’s about time.”

A few things set this institution apart. Everyone from surgeons to managers to cafeteria workers received a one-page quarterly report. Using three simple graphs and a few bullet points, it showed how the hospital was doing on three critical measures: financial performance, customer service, and clinical outcomes (how many people are actually getting better as a result of their stay). Everyone could see how their hospital was doing over time, how they compared to other hospitals in their national network, and how they compared to all hospitals across the country. When people saw any of their arrows dip when their competitors were going up, they got interested. It got people talking. It got people excited, worried, questioning. In short, it got people thinking about the overall health of the institution.

The CEO didn’t have a name for what they did, he just saw it as good management. But there is a name for it and many companies have adopted Open Book Management. It is exactly what it sounds like. You open the books so people can see what’s going on. If you trust the people working with you, it is simple. It doesn’t take a consulting firm with lots of little MBA’s hovering about or a multi-million dollar new system. All it takes is your willingness to treat staff like adults and give them information.

  • Financials. You give people at all levels of the organization information about financial performance and show them how your performance compares to others in your industry.
  • Trends. Give people information on trends. What’s happening with the market for your products or services? What impact might new technology have on what you offer or how you offer it?
  • Threats. Are new competitors trying to enter your market? If so, what do you know about them?
  • The key question. You can cover most of the critical Open Book issues simply by letting people in on what keeps you awake at night. If you are willing to do that, you’ll get many minds thinking about solutions.

If you think you might like this approach, we encourage you to read Open Book Management by John Case.


© 2009 Rick Maurer – Rick uses his Change without Migraines™ to advise organizations on how to lead change effectively. He is author of many books including Beyond the Wall of Resistance. Recently, he created the Change Management Open Source Project, a free resource for people interested in change in organizations. www.beyondresistance.com