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US carbon emissions rose in , after years of decline.

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Of course, climate deniers, the media and the fossil fuel industry have played a major role in creating policy inaction. But many climate advocates have also ignored a deeper problem: technical reports are a poor substitute for political mobilization. The GND is an aspirational idea; it lacks policy coherence and a legislative roadmap. Yet, it has moved climate conversations from fretting about IPCC reports to topics that people can relate to. Its vocabulary is simple and accessible. Politicians may hate the GND or love it, but they cannot duck it.

The challenging politics of climate change

It has unleashed a new kind of street politics. How did the GND manage to change climate politics? After all, the climate movement—a loose network of scientists, environmental and citizen groups—was doing everything that advocacy groups typically do, such as lobbying governments and policymakers, persuading firms and talking directly to people. What was missing? The climate movement did well in identifying its goal.

Armed with scientific reports, the movement also showed why climate action was needed. After all, the climate movement wants a transition to a low carbon economy, and this requires persuading a lot of people to re-organize their lives.

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The movement assumed that when people are told about the seriousness of climate issues by top scientists, they will reorganize. Coal miners will start installing solar panels, and blue-collar workers will retrain for new jobs. And people will junk their SUVs and pickups and start driving electric cars or hopping onto the bus or train. But many have resisted this change. Plus, they have used the political process to oppose regulations that might force such changes.

The mistake of the climate movement was that it placed too much emphasis on science to persuade people and did not figure out why voters may not follow scientific advice. The science-politics contradiction was on display in December Leaders in Katowice wanted to implement the Paris Agreement while people in Paris started violent protests opposing the very tenets of this agreement. During these conversations, employees were asked whether they were ready to give the green light on a change, felt the need to slow down or wanted the company to stop and take a step back.

The Politics of Change | SpringerLink

Sponsors and promoters are the most receptive to change. They welcome change and are easily convinced of its merits. Sponsors are particularly helpful for underscoring the benefits to the customer or the organization or for offering resources and lending support. Promoters, in contrast, can create optimistic buzz and help to build passion and confidence around change. Bringing both of these types of early adopters on board in the initial phases of change and asking for their support, ideas, input and commitment can be extremely beneficial in moving change forward, as they have the power to magnify the positive word of mouth.

At the other extreme, influential skeptics tend to fall into two categories. Positive skeptics resist a change because they genuinely believe it has flaws that need to be addressed. These folks are critical to involve and listen to because they offer a reality check on the proposed changes and implementation. They can be a catalyst for useful rethinking of different aspects and often can help uncover snags and complications that could cause trouble or create backlash.

Negative skeptics tend to resist change for more personal and emotional reasons. Often these people are struggling with underlying fears and anxieties about how the change will impact them personally. Working through their concerns is an important part of keeping the change process smooth. In the middle — and in the majority — are the fence-sitters. They also tend to fall into two groups.

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  • The first are cautious. They watch and wait and are often concerned about the political consequences of moving too fast. They tend to look to their peers for direction or postpone action until most people are on board with the change. Indifferent fence-sitters constitute the other category of the middle majority. Their lack of interest might stem from feeling overcommitted or from a sense that the change is outside their direct scope of responsibility or is not integrated directly into their performance metrics.

    Addressing the concerns of skeptics early can prevent negative emotions from swaying the cautious or indifferent fence-sitters toward resistance. However, in our experience, it tends to be the energy of influential promoters and sponsors that wins over this fence-sitting majority. Sponsors and promoters are change champions vital to success, because they have the insight, passion and energy to aid in the creation of the content, culture and momentum required for change.

    They have the social networks to broadcast the change, the acumen to make a compelling case for change, the resources to get things done and the power needed to gain the necessary support to achieve success. Sponsors and promoters bring different sets of strengths and tools to the process that can be critical in converting the middle majority into true believers.

    Sponsors have access to financial and human resources and can capture the attention of the C-suite. They can win over key stakeholders. Sponsors are likely to be story shapers who have an ability to connect the change to the strategic vision of the company and its value proposition. In our hypothetical sustainability initiative, an influential sponsor might be a senior vice president who led the organization through tough challenges in the past and who believes that the new initiative is essential for translating the talk about sustainability into practice.

    Such an executive might be able to work behind the scenes to pull in powerful peers who are fence-sitters or broadcast the strategic rationale and value proposition for sustainability at launch meetings. Promoters, on the other hand, have connections with a broad range of people throughout the organization. Promoters are story sharers, translating strategy into divisional or region-specific narratives in ways that can be more easily understood.

    They also cultivate shared ownership for the change by customizing its benefits with respect to a particular function or unit and encourage their colleagues to contribute their own ideas for driving the implementation forward. In our sustainability initiative example, for instance, a boundary-spanning promoter from the European division might see the sustainability initiative as an opportunity to increase her visibility in the organization.

    She may be delighted to expand her role as an educator within the organization by sharing best practices and helping with the training and mentoring of groups in other regions. Her connections across the organization, experience working on previous sustainability initiatives in her region and clear support for the new initiative may also draw in the cautious fence-sitters. Skeptics can either offer tremendous value to a change process or turn a minor hurdle into a major roadblock.

    Causes of stability and instability

    Although change leaders may often believe that the concerns of skeptics will naturally dissolve, working with skeptics early in the process is time well invested. Positive skeptics may offer important perspectives and insights about the vulnerabilities of proposed changes.

    For example, positive skeptics in the sustainability initiative may include production floor stewards who have heard rumors that an environmental overhaul of their processing plant is in the works but no one has yet communicated the specifics. They may grow resentful that no one is soliciting their input. Bringing them into the process by asking for their ideas and exploring their underlying reasons for opposition invariably will uncover challenges and risks that are better dealt with preemptively.

    Better yet, a representative from this stakeholder group could be asked to help shape the initiative from the start. Equally important is working directly with influential negative skeptics.


    Sometimes consciously, sometimes unwittingly, these cynics may kindle underground resistance that could derail the change if their concerns are not addressed. Returning to the sustainability example, many baby-boomer employees might fear they lack the skills needed to succeed in the new environment. They may worry that they will be replaced by younger employees trained to work with the newer, environmentally friendly technologies and processes. Positive or negative, skeptics should be embraced and their concerns heard. Developing action steps to address issues raised by positive skeptics early is important in order to prevent resistance from escalating.

    Listening carefully to the concerns of negative skeptics is also critical. Addressing their concerns honestly sends a clear message that their perspective is important, that the change will not be force-fed to them and that transparency and openness are valued. This will not only promote success in this change, but it will also build receptivity for future changes that are inevitably around the corner.

    However, they should ensure that two-way communication channels are in place. This will ensure that shortcomings of the change highlighted by positive skeptics are not overlooked and will contribute to strategies that alleviate some of the anxieties of negative skeptics. Faced with globalization, rapid technological change, ever-shifting economic and political conditions, competition from around the world, and short-lived competitive advantage, many companies face a constant need to change, and every change creates a different set of political responses and emotional reactions.

    We have found that a number of factors will shape how this five-step approach is applied. When a change is large-scale, confusion and misunderstanding about the change as it ripples out, combined with uncertainty about the future, may be especially strong. In such circumstances, addressing these concerns preemptively with transparency and two-way channels for communication and feedback are critical. When a change is controversial, certain stakeholder groups or individuals may feel particularly threatened. Providing town halls for stakeholders to voice concerns and helping different constituencies uncover their underlying interests and common ground may be important action steps to consider under these conditions.

    In such cases, early enrollment of influential sponsors and promoters from across the organization combined with skill development about change may be critical. Organizations that are undergoing rapid change continuously and with some success are not immune to politics and emotions, either. For some of these companies, overcoming change fatigue may be the biggest challenge. One way to avoid burnout is to draw on different promoters and sponsors for each change or phase of change. For energetic start-ups, on the other hand, the biggest challenge may be constructively channeling the deluge of ideas generated by those excited about the change without diluting their passion.

    Prioritizing, pacing and sequencing the change through structured and facilitated dialogue is usually a helpful action step in these types of companies. Regardless of the specifics of the change process, leaders should continuously observe and explore political and emotional attitudes as the change unfolds. The political and emotional landscape will tend to shift over time and for different initiatives. Early reactions may swing once people become engaged in the change process, as the personal and organizational outcomes become known and as momentum builds.

    Maintaining open communication channels to capture and broadcast early wins and insights may be key to keeping political and emotional waters smooth. Later in the process, sustaining energy and ensuring that positive testimonials are flowing may be more of a challenge.

    Signaling personal, organizational and greater-good benefits through storytelling, and showcasing and sharing innovations and best practices, while demonstrating achievement on key metrics, may help revitalize passion and fuel the momentum needed for ongoing success.

    Business leaders cannot afford to ignore the politics and emotions that arise with change.

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    The five-step process offered here provides leaders with an action-oriented and easy-to-navigate approach for working with the political and emotional dynamics that can either thwart their best-laid plans or drive an important transformation. As sponsors and promoters take on change leadership roles, positive skeptics channel their input and negative skeptics acquire the skills and support to confront their fears constructively, these seemingly unpredictable aspects of change can be leveraged effectively.

    These three quotations were adapted from actual comments; they were edited to preserve the anonymity of the individuals and their organizations. They are also grateful to Lisa Hillenbrand and Ed Freeman for their comments and insights on this work. Thanks to authors. I use stakeholder management planning in developing project management plans and there are strong parallels between the 2 approaches. I find this article reinforces the concepts and benefits from both approaches.