The 20-60-20 Rule of Change Management

Whether you’ve been brought in to a team to clean it up or to facilitate the implementation of a new program, product or service, change management requires some tough decisions.

In addition to figuring out a plan for implementation of whatever program, process, product, or service you’ve been brought in to manage, there is a key component that all leaders need to understand about their human resources:

The 20-60-20 rule.

What is the 20-60-20 rule?

Basically, it’s a non-scientific ratio that is meant to reflect that whenever major organizational change is in the offing, the staff will fall into one of three groups:

  • 20% will be on board and ready to do what’s necessary to implement the changes.
  • 60% will understand the need for change, still be skeptical of it, but grudgingly willing to go along.
  • 20% will not be on board at all.

While it’s up to a leader to champion the cause of change, there is never likely to be a situation when 100% of the staff are fully on board. The first step in managing this issue is accepting that reality. It’s hard to do!

Accepting that there is a percentage of the team you’re working with that includes people who are actively against the change being instituted can be rough. Ignoring those people, however, can cause a lot of damage to morale for the other 80%.

You’re not leading a change to be the most popular person in the room: you’re doing it for the health and well being of the organization. Part of managing that change is working to convince those that are skeptical of the value of the change and—here’s where the ruthless part comes in—being willing to part ways with those who will never be on board.

How do you reach the 60% who are skeptical about change?

The top tier will (hopefully) include the C-suite, as organizational change is rarely successful if the main promoters don’t include the entirety of the top of the organization. Assuming the C-suite and others are on board and acting as champions for change, the key to reaching the 60% who aren’t fully committed is communication.

But how do you do that? How can you take the pulse of the employees you are trying to communicate with and get feedback from them effectively?

It’s important to make sure that the top tier also includes others throughout the organization at every level who are considered, for lack of a better word, influencers. These are people who have their ears to the ground and know what’s going on in their departments or areas. They have the pulse of the front line staff and can feedback what the concerns and issues are floating around that they staff might not be willing to feedback directly. These same people can be empowered to be champions of change among the rest of the staff. After all, in a large organization, you can’t be everywhere!

Ultimately, as a leader, it’s your job to find out what is impeding their acceptance of the change and address it, if you can. The 60% might not end up being champions of change, but they will at least feel as if they’ve been heard and with the knowledge that the best possible model of change is being moved forward, they are more likely to get on board with it.

Does this mean you just fire the 20% who aren’t on board?

Of course not. Communication with this group is even more important as they might have some very valid concerns that you can help dispel, turning the tide on their views of the change.

There has to be a line in the sand, however. At some point, you have to decide that your plan is moving forward, with input and changes from all the groups, and that’s that. Anyone who isn’t on board at this point needs to be reviewed to see if they are a good fit to remain with the organization. They may be very competent in their roles, but if they can’t align themselves with the new direction the organization is taking, they can also do a lot of damage to the effectiveness of the changes and the morale of the rest of the teams.

You might even find that, with their removal, the other teams work more cohesively as they’re not always up against someone who is griping about the changes and causing disruption. It’s one thing to disagree; it’s another entirely to disrupt the effective work of a team.

The kind of tough decisions that are part of any change management plan are what leadership is all about. Keeping communication lines open, and working towards a plan that has the best possible outcome for the organization and the people within it, are always your goals.

Leave a Comment

Take the Generosity Quiz

Take the quiz:

What's your generosity quotient?

To become a groundbreaking leader, you need to know where you stand. Discover your default generosity style with our free assessment.