Enlist People In Your Change!


Friendly chatWe’ve talked about the role that one-way and two-way communication can play in the success of your change. But sometimes, communication isn’t enough. Sometimes you need to enlist people to support the change.

Let’s take a look at what it takes to enlist people.

The first step is to identify those you need to enlist. Whether the change is personal or organizational, it isn’t everyone. Because enlisting is time (and resource) intensive, you want to be selective.

Within organization’s, it is easier to identify your enlistment “targets;” they are the top ranks of your leadership, those whose active–and supportive–engagement you need in order to cascade the change through the organization.

There is a second, and more difficult to identify, group…those who are influencers, even though they may not hold a formal leadership or management role. We will be exploring the influencer’s role, and how to identify these individuals, in an upcoming post. For now, ask yourself who are the people that Emma Employee will point to and say, She’s not on board with this change, so I’m not ready to commit to it either. These are the influencers you need to enlist.

At the personal change level it is unlikely that there is much (if any) “leadership cascade.” So here your focus may be exclusively on identifying the influencers. Begin with these questions: 1) Whose support do I need to make this change successful? 2) To whom will these people turn for guidance and direction related to this change? The people you identify in response to the second question are the people you need to enlist.

{NOTE: The enlistment process as I describe it here is based on Conner Partners’ enrollment process; while I have tailored it to address individuals as well as organizations, the fundamental principles and questions are the same.)

There are three principles that are critical to enlistment.

First, it is a dialogue. Begin by laying out the intent of the change. Here you may want to reference, or even tell, your change story (as discussed in earlier posts). Allow, and encourage, clarifying questions.

Second, it is face-to-face, eye-to-eye, heart-to-heart. This is not something that can be done long distance.

Third, your focus is on building their understanding of, and commitment to, your change.

Once you have laid out the change, there are three questions that you want to ask. Their sequence is important, because it helps frame how people will respond to what you have told them.

First, ask What do you like most about what I have told you? 

Second, ask What do you want to challenge? Note that this is not “What don’t you like? or “What would you change?” The question “What do you want to challenge?” makes clear that while you are open to hearing their voice, you are the decision-maker.

Third, ask What else should I (we) consider as the change moves forward? 


If you are not clear about what is being said, ask clarifying questions.


Don’t judge. Don’t reject what is being offered.


My recommendation is to give people time to reflect on what they have heard before you take the next step…which is enlisting them to take action in support of your change. Best is overnight…”Think about it over lunch” doesn’t give them enough time; “Let’s get back together next week” is more time than is needed.

When you get back together, be open to any questions they might have, answer them, and then ask for their commitment to support you. Be specific about what you want them to do, how you want them to express/demonstrate their commitment.

if you are applying this to a personal change, or working with influencers inside an organization, most of your enlistment sessions will be one-on-one. Different people will bring different perspectives to the change; you want to be able to tailor your responses to their individual frames of reference. (There may be times when a couple, or a group of friends, or members of a team you are on are enlisted together. Don’t rule it out…though it is usually not the norm.)

If you are enlisting the traditional organizational hierarchy, it is likely that you will enlist those who report to you. The action you will ask of them is to enlist those who report to them. Cascade the enlistment as far as your change warrants.

Have you ever been enlisted to support a change in this way? What was your experience?

One thought on “Enlist People In Your Change!

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