When leading change, leaders should always be on the alert for the techniques people use to knockout change initiatives. The techniques are Machiavellian and very effective, as evidenced by the 75% failure rate of transformational change initiatives. People use the techniques when they feel that the change will adversely affect their power, prestige or both. This article is the first in a series highlighting the most effective techniques and how to combat them. Let’s begin with the most effective one: The Rope-A-Dope.
The name for this technique comes from the strategy that Muhammad Ali used to beat George Foreman in 1974. Ali leaned against the ropes and let Foreman wail away punching him. Foreman wore himself. In the eight round, Ali came off the ropes and knocked out Foreman.
To stymie change, the “Rope-A-Dope” consists of resisters continually asking the change leader to do additional analysis to validate the benefits and/or costs of change initiative. This continual analysis begins to wear down the change leader. By the eight study, the resisters step forward and knock out the change leaders by presenting to executive management all of the time their team—not the change leader’s team—has been spending studying the initiative, which is taking away from them meeting their financial objectives for the year. Worst yet, the more crafty ones say that if it were not for them intervening the initiative would have been a disaster for the company. As a result, they should be put in charge of it. Talk about flipping the script!
To combat the “Rope-A-Dope,” change leaders need to use this two-step approach:
Step Outside Of The Ring. Stop throwing punches at the evasive and grab hold of the definitive. For example, when I first became SVP of operations at Medtronic, each business unit had its own supply chain. We saw that we could save over 25% of cost and also improve delivery performance by optimizing the supply chains, especially since the finished products were being delivered to the same market areas. When I raised the question of us doing so, the business leader in opposition asked that a study be done to validate the benefits. Someone whispered in my ear that six previous studies had been done. Spotting the “Rope-A-Dope,” I asked what percentage of the benefits was in question. The response was “About 20% or so.” I immediately said, “Lets go get the 80 and then do the study on the remaining 20.” Executive leadership nodded in agreement and the change was on. I didn’t have to throw another punch.
Bring Another Person Into the Ring. Engage someone in corporate accounting keep track of the benefits as you move forward with the implementation. Reason being, even though executive management has approved the initiative, resisters will still try to use the “Rope-A-Dope” by continually questioning the benefits you are getting. They will come up with their own numbers instead of yours. To beat them to the punch, have someone totally independent and objective become the “single source of the truth.” Someone in corporate accounting is the best person because that group has to roll up all of the numbers for the company and then have them validated by the external auditor. By getting corporate accounting involved, resisters will have to engage them instead of you.
In closing, always be on the lookout for the Rope-A-Dope because it is the most effective and often used change resistance technique.
James Dallas is the author of Mastering the Challenges of Leading Change: Inspire the People and Succeed Where Others Fail and an accomplished senior executive. As president of James Dallas & Associates, he consults with and speaks to companies and organization about managing change. He has been named one of the most powerful black men in corporate America several times in his career by Black Enterprise and Savoy magazines.