BECAUSE I SAID SO! How to NOT get people to follow you

Raise your virtual hand if you could retire to a cozy estate along the Caloosahatchee River in sunny Fort Myers, Florida, if given a dime for every time you heard this during your childhood:

Because I said so.

The ultimate parent card. Good for any and all occasions. The proverbial ace up the sleeve. The go-to for parents across generations and cultures alike. And once pulled, leaves no room for discussion, questions or rebuttals. And yes, I’m guilty too… please don’t judge me.

There is much I could say about what’s inherently wrong with this statement beyond the obvious and why no one should use it ever, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll point out the one thing that’s surprisingly right about it.

The use of the word “because”.

The Power of the Word “Because” To Get People To Do Stuff, an article written in Psychology Today by behavioral psychologist and author, Dr. Susan Weinschenk leans on foundational research conducted more than four decades ago by Ellen Langer, Harvard psychology professor. The major take-a-way is that when you want to get people to comply, “because” is the magic word.

“Using the word “because” and giving a reason resulted in significantly more compliance. This was true even when the reason was not very compelling (“because I have to make copies”). …And hearing the word “because” followed by a reason (no matter how lame the reason is), causes us to comply.”

As a child I’m not sure how much of my compliance was due to this psychological theory as much as it was…well, let’s just say my mom’s bad side is not where you wanted to find yourself. Furthermore, the reason that followed, “I said so”, was as compelling as they come.

Unfortunately, this quasi-effective parenting technique reminds me of the change management approach I’ve encountered more often than not and across multiple industries with corporate leadership at the brink of a major organizational change.

And then they wonder why employees resist.

The break room conversations reveal the general attitude of employees when they get wind that something is about to change in companies who consistently employ a “Because I said so” approach. Mixed with complaints about the weather and weekend plans, you’ll likely hear a few other four word phrases like “Flavor of the Month” or “Same sh*t, different day” being tossed around.

This type of “command and control” approach may work temporarily but does not support long-term sustainable change and is often met with full on resistance, mini revolts, and maybe even coups d’é·tat (okay, maybe it doesn’t get that bad). Nevertheless, the results are the same:

F-A-I-L-U-R-E

Having been involved at many different levels of major organizational change like Lean or agile transformations and even seemingly insignificant ones like changes to the workflow or an org chart, I’ve witnessed these failures first hand as well as a handful of successes. And you can bet your bottom dollar those few successes were due to leadership’s commitment to transparency and willingness to utilize an effective model for driving change.

In today’s marketplace, change is necessary and the ability to do it well and do it quickly brings a competitive edge that’s hard to match. Yes, change can be hard and scary but it doesn’t have to suck. Failing to answer the “why” for employees is a perfect recipe for failure and is certain to ignite warranted resistance and unnecessary barriers to adoption.

My colleague Zach Beer, an accomplished leader in tech and a recovering arrogant jerk, recently gave an amazing talk on team communication and collaboration. A few of his nuggets from that talk inspired this post:

“How you present information is more important than the information you present.”

“People fear change until they understand how it benefits them”.

The bottom line is simple – if leadership doesn’t do a good enough job helping their people clearly understand exactly what’s changing, why it’s changing and what it means for them, no one should be surprised at the outcome. Skipping this step is like attempting to drive a car without an engine – You ain’t going nowhere buddy!

I’ve seen the continuous benefits and formidable impact true agility delivers for our clients. It’s one of the many reasons why I love the work we do at Responsive Advisors. We understand that a solid change management plan is a must and is critical to a successful agile transformation. We also practice what we preach.

Maybe your organization is considering a big change in order to reduce risk or optimize business performance in a competitive market, if so we welcome the opportunity to partner with you. Using our proprietary change management framework, a straightforward and powerful approach for driving successful change, we’ll work together to easily transform the way your organization gets work done.

If you prefer to DIY it I highly recommend developing a solid change management strategy. The ADKAR model is an excellent blueprint or you can create your own…just be sure to actually follow it.

But why Danni? Because I said so! Just kidding…I couldn’t resist 😉

Danielle Pollard

Danielle is a Senior Managing Advisor with Responsive Advisors. She specializes in agile team development and peak performance strategy.