doors  on wallsThree closets exist in which saboteurs to change lurk: the technical closet, the political closet, and the cultural closet. Knowing where to look and what to expect helps the change leader avoid being eaten up by saboteurs during the change process.


The technical closet is the one where the monsters say, “I have to change the way I work” and “what about all the money that’s been invested in the way I work?” Political saboteurs say, in so many words, “my control is threatened.” The way they say it might be, “how was that decision made?” or “who made that decision?” or “what control will I have over the scarce resources that we have?” Cultural monsters want to maintain the “way we’ve always done it” through digging their heels into to existing values, norms and assumptions. The classic metaphor for the cultural saboteur is the one about the crabs in the bucket who will pull down any other crab who climbs to the top of the bucket trying to get out.


These monsters, although appearing ferocious, can be tamed by empathy, communication, and engagement. Use active and deep listening to learn how the change is being experienced. Show empathy and support, suspend judgment and see things from the perspective of the one displaying sabotaging behavior. This decreases defensiveness and resistance to change.


Communication is so key to anything leaders do, yet is tricky because of information overload. Try sending information about a change effort using a different channel of communication. If most usual communication is delivered through written email, use only emailed videos for change information.


Engagement is the most effective way to quell saboteurs. Participation and involvement generate ownership in a process, which fosters a sense of control over and commitment to that process. Ask for information and ideas to help with planning the change, and for help in identifying potential land mines and barriers to implementing change.

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