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Why too much change upsets the Voters…

May 27, 2010

The recent UK Election can teach us a lot about how we entice people to come with us in times of change.

There was great hopes that we would get a government up to the challenges ahead and to steer us to the future. And at one point, Nick Clegg, the Leader of the Liberal Democrats got great press after the first televised leadership debate with 61% of viewers thinking he came out on top.  It was hailed as a potential ‘game changer’ and prospects of a hung parliament becoming closer. Nick Clegg was hailed as a new charismatic leader and indeed his speeches had a touch of the Obama’s about them, with some direct parallels and even a reference to him.

And we did get that  hung parliament but it wasn’t because the Liberal Democrats swung seats in their direction. They actually lost seats rather than gained them. So why did they lose seats? Reviewing the debates gave me an understanding of the Leaders attitude to change and how they presented this to the public and ultimately the effect this may have had.

Nick Clegg - too much change?

Nick Clegg embedded the concept of how different the Liberal Democrats are – “We can do something different this time”, “if we do things differently”, “we’ve got to do things differently” throughout the three leadership debates.

The incumbent, Brown (Labour) talked about keeping this the same, “I know what this job involves”, “I know how to run the economy” said the ex Chancellor whilst Cameron, leader of the Conservatives and the now new Prime Minister, took the middle ground; “not everything Labour has done in the last 13 years has been wrong – they’ve done some good things and I would keep those, but we need change..”,

So why did this have such an effect on voting?

People like the idea of change as a concept but reality is something else.   Work around unconscious patterns of behaviour and thinking such as the LAB Profile  by Shelle Rose Charvet* (amongst others) show that only 20% of any group distribution really like profound change, wanting things to be different. Most people hover somewhere in the middle (75%) , with just a little bit of incremental change (keeping things the same with some exceptions and difference)  and 5% like things to stay with the status quo, keeping it more or less the same.

If we keep this in mind, maybe Clegg just offered too much change. If we want people to come with us on the journey we need to come to where they are first, understand their position and build trust from this place and then gradually bring them on the journey. This may not match the 10% of people who are excited about how it can be different but they will come anyway when the new thing you are offering becomes apparent.

What are the lessons for us as Leaders?

We have challenging times ahead, the world is changing and our working worlds are changing and at a pace. Leaders need their followers to rise to the challenge and come with them. So if we want people to come with us we need to reassure them that we understand them and what’s important for them to keep the same, whilst incrementally bringing in what we need to do differently to meet those challenges. This will be in our actions, the way we listen and in our language. Incidentally, in terms of language this normally runs on a pattern of offering 3 statements of whats stays the same, to one of difference. For example, ” We are here to provide a service to our customers, we need to remember why we do this job, we need to keep working to our values and this is the thing we now need to do differently.”

We need to go to their world, build trust and then bring them on the journey rather than pretend they are already where we want them to be.  If we don’t do this we get resistance and the change becomes harder. If we do we get co-operation.

Don’t throw the Baby out with the bath water. Honour the past whilst keeping an eye on the future.

What do you need to remain the same to gain the change?

* If you want to find out more about the LAB profile I can recommend “Words that Change Minds” – Shelle Rose Charvet

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